Ocean’s Chef George Reis Readies Grouper Dish for Great American Seafood Cook-Off

The Great American Seafood Cook-Off is one of the premier seafood events in the country.

And since we Alabamians are known to produce a premier seafood product, this event is a valuable annual opportunity to showcase what Alabama Gulf Seafood is made of.

The 2015 GASCO takes place Saturday, August 8 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, featuring chefs from across the country.

This year, we stepped our game up a bit.

Back on May 1, we introduced the Alabama Seafood Cook-Off, which went down at Southern Makers in Montgomery. Four finalists were selected, and Chef George Reis of Ocean in Birmingham walked away with the top prize – a chance to represent our state at the GASCO this month.

“It was a great thrill to have been selected, and try to pull this all off in an hour and plate something that you’re really proud of,” said Reis. “It was kind of fun because you see a lot of people in the same business and there’s a lot of camaraderie there.”

Reis’s winning dish? That’d be Cumin Coriander Crusted Grouper and Smoked Alabama Shrimp Sausage with English Pea Hummus, Sand Mountain Tomato Jam, Pickled Carrots and Radishes, and Preserved Lemon Oil.

Needless to say, it’s a complex recipe. And its origins might not be what you think.

“I used Indian flavor as a base,” said Reis. “I started thinking of a curry but breaking them apart into different pieces. So it’s kind of taking the base idea of an Indian flavor profile and breaking down the components of it and pulling it back together on one plate.”

The trickiest part of the recipe? That’d be the Alabama Shrimp Sausage.

“The shrimp sausage is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Reis. “I felt it had a lot of potential. The fear was trying to make sausage in an hour, though, while you’re doing the competition. But it came out really good.”

Reis’s focus has been away from the GASCO for most of the summer.

In July, Reis opened up a new restaurant in Birmingham, the Five Point Public House Oyster Bar, where his previous restaurant 26 used to be. And thanks to huge crowds in the opening weeks, Reis and his team have been staying busy.

Reis is serving his ASCO-winning dish at Ocean, however.

“We’ve actually run it as a feature and got a good response on it,” said Reis. “I think what I’m going to do is let Five Point get settled and then we’ll probably go back to it as a menu item.”

He’s also finding time to make a small change to the recipe, specifically the Sand Mountain Tomato Jam.

“I felt that the tomato jam didn’t quite do right,” said Reis. “Because of the time constraints, it really doesn’t have enough time to set up. I noticed as we were serving it to the judges – they might not have even seen it, maybe I’m hyper-critical on it – but I could see the jam starting to melt, to where a little bit of the water was starting to weep out of it. I’ll probably tighten it up just a little bit, just to ensure that it has travel time and sit time, so we don’t have the same problem.”

He’s also been seeking out advice from a few former GASCO participants.

Along with reaching out to Chef Jim Smith, executive chef for the state of Alabama and winner of the 2011 GASCO, Reis had a chance encounter with an assistant chef to a former Mississippi GASCO contender that evolved into a 30-minute conversation about the competition.

It’s been too long since an Alabamian brought home the GASCO crown, but given Reis’s expertise, his preliminary run at the ASCO, and the delicious shrimp and grouper on display, we like our chances.

To learn more about the GASCO competition, visit their website.

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