The restaurant professionals who gather at the annual Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO no doubt hope to take away some new business leads or culinary ideas from their visit. For a select group of 16 of them, however, there also is the matter of bringing home the crown of "King or Queen of American Seafood."
The Great American Seafood Cook-Off (www.greatamericanseafoodcookoff.com) is held in conjunction with the EXPO, Aug. 11-13 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The EXPO itself is an industry event, not open to the public, but the cookoff is open to all (11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 11 in Hall J).
Louisiana is represented by Keith Frentz of the Northshore restaurant Lola (517 N. New Hampshire St., Covington, 985-892-4992; www.lolacovington.com). In May, Frentz won the annual Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off 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 explain why North Carolina and Tennessee are represented by chefs from their governors' mansions this year. Other chef contestants come from restaurants in states as far away as Hawaii and Alaska. Alabama is represented by Chris Hastings, of Birmingham's Hot and Hot Fish Club, who won the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef: Southeast award earlier this year.
Cookoff spectators are treated to seafood samples and snacks from event sponsors during the event. Tickets are $10 at the door or $5 in advance at local Whole Foods Market stores (www.wholefoodsmarket.com).