The Flavors of The Gulf

GULF SHORES, Ala. (WBRC) - The four finalists at the recent 7th Annual Alabama Seafood Cook-Off at The Lodge at Gulf State Park gave the judges a difficult task in determining who will represent the state in the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans. With a variety of creative dishes to sample, the judges voted the more traditional fare as the top creations, awarding Jeffrey Compton of Homewood’s The Battery restaurant the $2,500 top prize.

The contestants had one hour to prepare their dishes, and the presentations were awarded up to 20 points each in five categories: presentation, general impression and serving methods; creativity and practicality; composition and harmony of ingredients; correct preparation and craftsmanship; and flavor, taste, and texture. The teams started preparing the dishes at five-minute intervals to allow the judges to taste the dishes at peak readiness.

Compton’s winning Butter-Poached Redfish consisted of Alabama redfish, new potato blue crab salad, late spring vegetables, lemon aioli and garden herbs.

Compton, who was assisted by Kyle Kirkpatrick, grew up in the Florida Panhandle and went to Auburn. He developed his food preparation skills at Acre Restaurant in Auburn before opening a new restaurant in Homewood.

“I grew up in Destin working on the beach, so I’ve always been around redfish,” Compton said. “I used redfish because it still has that white meat, but it’s a little firmer. That’s why I poached it in butter. I plated with a nice, light blue crab and potato salad. I thought those two paired well for balance.”

Cook-Off Emcee Pete “Panini” Blohme said Morgan McWaters’ presentation “screamed Alabama” and was deemed runner-up in the competition. McWaters, Head Chef at The Depot in Auburn, prepared a dish called Fried Green Snapper, which combined green tomatoes, Gulf red snapper, spicy creamed corn, jumbo crab, Granny Smith apple and red cabbage slaw, and Alabama white sauce. She said, “When I think of Alabama, I think of fried green tomatoes. I used red snapper because it has a mild, white flesh.”

Sam Adams of Small Batch Pop-Up Tasting in Birmingham offered her Seafood Tamal dish that was prepared with Alabama Gulf blue crab, black garlic masa, shrimp stock, fermented corn, shrimp pico de gallo, oyster emulsion with candied habaneros and local radishes.

“I made this because I thought it was very different, and Hispanic cuisine is near to my heart,” said Adams, who was assisted by Liz Brody. “I added the crab to the tamal with some tomatillos and jalapeños with vinegar to add some super bright acid to stand against the rich black garlic. We used beautiful Royal Red shrimp in the pico to get the richness from the shrimp. And the oyster emulsion is just a full, creamy experience in terms of textures.”

Robbie Nicolaisen of The Hound restaurant in Auburn presented an Asian twist in his seafood dish of Binchotan Grilled Cobia, which consisted of Alabama Gulf cobia, Chubby Belly XO glaze, crab fat rice middlins, green tomato dashi, nuoc cham braised cabbage and collard green togarashi.

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, oversees the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, which was established in 2011 to promote Alabama’s seafood resources. Blankenship was pleased with the competition and support from all who enjoy Gulf seafood. “It was great to have the competition at The Lodge at Gulf State Park,” Blankenship said. “We have all these great chefs right at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, taking these fine Alabama seafood products, preparing them with other Alabama products, like produce and fruit. When they use their creativity and talent to put that together in a dish, you know it’s going to be spectacular.”


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Fred Hunter

Fred Hunter

WBRC First Alert Meteorologist Fred Hunter was born in Alabama in the historic town of Ft. Payne. He has lived, attended school, raised his family and worked in the South all his life.