The restaurant professionals who will soon gather for the annual Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO no doubt hope to take away some new business leads or culinary ideas. For a select group of 16 of them, however, there is also the matter of bringing home the crown of “King or Queen of American Seafood.”
The Great American Seafood Cook-Off is held in conjunction with the EXPO, Aug. 11-13 this year inside the Morial Convention Center. The EXPO itself is an industry event sponsored by the Louisiana Restaurant Association, and is not open to the public. The cook-off is open to all, however, and this year it’s on Aug. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Hall J of the convention center.
It will feature chefs representing states around the nation locked in what event promoters bill as “the country’s most prestigious seafood competition to be crowned the king or queen of American seafood. The event is run by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, which says it’s intended to showcase domestic, sustainable seafood.
Louisiana is represented by Keith Frentz, of the Covington restaurant Lola (not to be confused with the Spanish restaurant Lola’s in Mid-City).
Frentz and his wife Nealy have run Lola since 2006, operating the restaurant from downtown Covington’s historic train depot, and even using a vintage caboose as their kitchen. In May, Frentz won the annual Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off, held at the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, which is essentially the local qualifying round to advance to the Great American Seafood Cook-Off.
As for the rest of the competition, each year governors around the country are invited to pick the chef to represent their state. This helps explains why the chefs from some states come straight from the governor’s mansion. Last year, chef Jim Smith, executive chef of the Alabama governor’s mansion, took first place in the competition. North Carolina and Tennessee are each sending their governors’ chefs this year.
Other chef contestants this time around are coming from restaurants in states as far away as Hawaii and Alaska and as close as Mississippi and Texas. Another, Chris Hastings, chef-owner of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club, won the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef: South” award earlier this year.
Cook-off spectators are treated to seafood samples and snacks from event sponsors during the event, and there will be a whole fish cutting demonstration from Whole Foods Market fishmonger Bob Reany at 12:15 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door or $5 in advance at Whole Foods Market stores in New Orleans, Metairie and Baton Rouge.
Proceeds benefit the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Education Fund. More details are here.