The Great American Seafood Cook-Off

The 2021 Great American Seafood Cook-Off (GASCO) was held Saturday, Aug. 7, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans as part of the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Food Service Expo. This 17th annual event, hosted by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, highlighted 13 chefs from across the nation representing their home states or U.S. territories. Chefs competing on behalf of their respective locations and restaurants included:

  • Chef Jesse Cavazos – Nick’s Fish Dive + Oyster Bar, The Woodlands, TX
  • Chef Wes Choy – Alyseka Resort Kitchens, Girdwood, AK
  • Chef Peter Duenas – Meskla Chamoru Fusion Bistro, Hagatna, Guam
  • Chef Denise Herrera – Red Heat Tavern, Boston, MA
  • Chef Nicholas Huckabee – A Difference in Dining, Myrtle Beach, SC
  • Chef Tory McPhail – Revelry Plate + Pour, Bozeman, MT
  • Chef Jackie Paige – Love Rocks Café, McKees Rocks, PA
  • Chef Jordan Scott – Perdido Key Breakfast Club, Pensacola, FL
  • Chef Scott Simpson – The Depot, Auburn, AL
  • Chef Austin Sumrall – White Pillars Restaurant, Biloxi, MS
  • Chef Edgar Teran – Someburros Restaurant, Phoenix, AZ
  • Chef Robert Vasquez – Forks & Corks, Covington, LA
  • Chef Leon Vuong – Seven Seas Food & Company, Portland, ME

After GASCO’s unique, New Orleans-style Opening Ceremonies, the event’s live cooking competition began during which the 13 eligible chef teams prepared their seafood dishes in front of a live audience, celebrity hosts, and a panel of nationally acclaimed judges. To be eligible, all participating chefs had to either hold the current title of King or Queen of Seafood or be appointed by the lieutenant governor of their respective state or territory.

Proudly representing the State of Alabama in the 2021 GASCO event was Chef Scott Simpson of The Depot in Auburn who was awarded this opportunity by winning the annual Alabama Seafood Cook-Off (and state bragging rights) in Gulf Shores in June 2021. After securing that victory, he prepared for the national event throughout the summer and was ready for a thrilling competition on the Louisiana coast.

“We have been methodically preparing for this national event to represent our state in the best way possible,” said Scott Simpson, executive chef of The Depot. “We started with practicing the dish from start to finish on specified butane burners that we would be using at the event. We triple-checked recipe measurements and procedures, adjusted the sequence of item preparation to be more efficient and logical, and we even featured the item on our menu to gather guests’ feedback and tweak to perfection – which helped tremendously in boosting our confidence in the dish and overall presentation.”

Chef Simpson prepared the same dish at GASCO with which he won the Alabama Seafood Cook-Off: Roasted Poblano Wrapped Gulf Yellow Edge Grouper with Saffron Veracruz Sauce, Gulf Shrimp, Conecuh Bacon and Elote Risotto, and Cilantro Lime Avocado Crema. His recipe paid homage to both of his grandmothers – one from Mexico and the other from Italy – and the comforting, harmonious flavors each family visit brought from those widely different geographical locations. Most significantly, however, Chef Simpson selected this dish because it provided a powerful showcasing of the versatility and quality of Alabama’s local bounty – from Alabama-grown fresh sweet corn, Conecuh bacon, local peppers, and tomatoes and herbs, to Alabama deep-water Grouper and famous, sustainably farmed Alabama Gulf Shrimp.

In addition to selecting a dish that highlights the state’s bountiful lands and coast, Chef Simpson also had plates hand-made strictly for his plated portions at GASCO. The plates, hailing from Prodigal Pottery in Chelsea, Alabama, were made by women fleeing homelessness, domestic abuse, and sex-trafficking. The company, in alignment with King’s Home women’s shelter, employs these individuals, using the money made from their sells to equip them with housing, financial training, emotional care, and more.

“I wanted to represent Alabama to the fullest, so I actually used a local artisan pottery company to hand-make our team plates to serve the dish,” added Simpson. “This is something that we’ve put our absolute best into, and now we’re serving it on a plate that others have also put their heart and soul into – it represents Alabama craftsmanship while also supporting a really wonderful cause.”

Using his Alabama-inspired recipe, Chef Simpson – alongside Assistant Chef Morgan Waters –had one full hour to prepare his dish. As the final seconds counted down, Chef Simpson presented his fully prepared Alabama Guld Seafood feast to GASCO judges and was scored based on presentation, creativity, composition, craftsmanship, and flavor.

After comparing all 13 chef teams scores, Chef Austin Sumrall of White Pillars Restaurant in Biloxi, Mississippi, was announced as winner of the 2021 Great American Seafood Cook-Off, celebrating his win with his signature progressive snapper dinner – which highlights the versatility of the snapper fish and uses almost every portion of the meat.

“We thought the competition went very well,” added Simpson. “Our team was up against some of the finest chefs across the nation, and we are thankful for the experience. Reflecting back, what I’m most proud of is we created a dish to showcase Alabama and one that also represents what we do at our restaurant. Our dish can be found on our restaurant’s nightly menu, and to be able to showcase our team’s skill at the competition – while representing our state - was an honor.”

“Chef Simpson was a phenomenal representation of Alabama throughout the GASCO competition,” said Jim Smith, executive chef and owner of Mobile-based The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar and winner of the 2011 GASCO competition. “He is one of the most talented chefs in the state, and we applaud him for all he has and will accomplish.”

More information on the Great American Seafood Cook-off, as well as a list of previous winners, can be found here.

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