Be sure to order the Gulf seafood next time you dine at Voyagers restaurant at Perdido Beach Resort. Its executive chef, Brody Olive, is the 2023 champion of the 8th Annual Alabama Seafood Cook-Off that showcases the bounty from the Gulf of Mexico.
Olive, who also won the contest in 2017, bested three other chefs in the finals on June 12 at Zeke’s Restaurant in Orange Beach. In addition to winning a $2,500 cash prize, Olive will represent Alabama in the national Great American Seafood Cook-Off competition later this summer in New Orleans.
Entrants anonymously submitted recipes featuring Gulf seafood, from which a panel selected the four finalists. Teams led by those chefs had an hour to prepare their dishes, which were ranked for creativity, composition, harmony of ingredients, and other factors.
Judges included state seafood industry figures and last year’s cook-off winner, Jeffrey Compton (The Battery in Homewood).
“We were blown away by chefs’ creativity in presenting Alabama Gulf Seafood through new and interesting recipe creations,” says Jim Smith, board chair of the contest sponsor Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, and one of the cook-off judges. He is owner-executive chef at The Hummingbird Way in Mobile and the 2011 winner of both the state and national seafood cook-offs.
But while Olive’s team takes top prize, the dishes from each finalist prove that locally caught or farmed seafood often served only hours out of the water, is a good bet when ordering at any of these restaurants.
Here’s what the chefs and their teams created for the cook-off, and what you can expect from their establishments.
Agnew, the group executive chef of Jesse’s restaurants in Magnolia Springs and Fort Morgan, charcoal-grilled dry-aged swordfish, which he served with heirloom tomato stuffed with Gulf blue crab, nixtamalized hominy from Bayou Cora Farms, and local summer vegetables.
Gulf seafood served at Jesse’s includes grilled and raw farmed oysters, littleneck clams, shrimp, grouper, and redfish. Jesse’s also has a strong reputation as a prime steak and chop house.
Olive poetically entitled his dish, “Fishing on the Rocks, The Jetties at Perdido Pass.” He smoked speared catfish over scrub oak coals and served it with flash-fried mole crab and shrimp horseradish cream, pickled purslane, and an almondy coral tuile cookie seasoned with smoked paprika.
Gulf seafood and prime steaks dominate the menu at Voyagers in Orange Beach, including grilled oysters, quail egg-topped shrimp shakshuka, and roasted whole fish. Appetizers include spring roll stuffed with Lionfish, an invasive species in the Gulf.
Song, a sous chef at The Depot in Auburn, prepared jumbo lump crab cake with dashi broth made with heirloom tomato, a salad of deep-sea Alabama royal red shrimp and cucumber quick-pickled with Meyer lemon, local corn, and a Mexican-inspired aioli.
Under owner-executive chef Scott Simpson, The Depot celebrates seafood in all forms. (A special dinner set for late June even features premium tinned fish.) Appetizers include woodfire-grilled Gulf oysters in compound butter with sake, miso, ginger, and garlic. Gulf grouper and shrimp star in a noodle bowl dressed in Thai coconut cream and lemongrass sauce.
Adams, co-founder of the Birmingham-based pop-up small batch, was the runner-up in the cook-off. He prepared what he called “Mediterranean Summer Meets Birmingham,” with seared red snapper over crab salad, hummus made from boiled peanuts, cornmeal fried squash, fried capers, saffron beurre l’orange sauce, and herb salad.
The tasting menu changes for each of small batch’s regular pop-up dinners, which are announced on its Facebook and Instagram pages (smallbatchbham). May’s menu included a course with Gulf fish cake with avocado ranch sauce, corn and cabbage relish, and cucumber tossed in fresh horseradish.