Friday night, the Slovanian Lodge in Biloxi was transformed into a sampling site for gourmet seafood. Top chefs from all over Mississippi came to show off their talents and raise money for local charities. Chefs quickly seared, sizzled, and sautéed at the Mississippi Seafood Cook-Off Friday night.
With less than an hour to prepare their dishes, chefs like Gary Hawkins did their best to wow the judges. Hawkins, with 928 Provisions Restaurant in Jackson, is back for a second time at the cook-off, and this year, he's here to win. Hawkins says, "We finished third last year, so looking forward to coming back and trying to do better or as well." Chef Hawkins crafted a pan-seared red fish over a sweet potato puree with sweet peas. This may sound complicated, but Hawkins says he tries to create dishes local Mississippians can make. He says, "So quick, easy, simple, all the things that most people can buy at the store and make at home."
Chefs say they not only come back year after year to prove their culinary excellence, but to be part of an event where proceeds go to a good cause. Melissa Scallan of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources says, "Extra Table is a charity of Robert St. John's where he partners with Sysco to provide food for food pantries. He has ten food pantries he helps, and five of them are on the Coast."
Chef Robert St. John was the emcee of Friday’s event, a chef and writer himself. The M.D.M.R. says they are excited to have Chef St. John as well as their first female chef as part of this year's cook-off. While judges rank the unique flavor of each dish, those at the event know their donation is going straight to those in need. The winner of the cook-off will represent Mississippi in the National Great American Seafood Cook-Off, which takes place in New Orleans later this summer.