Foodie News

Austin chefs battle in a seafood showdown: Texas pride, national rep on the line

Austin chefs battle in a seafood showdown: Texas pride on the line

Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Plating
Chefs Rich Taylor and Kimani Williams plating food for the judges. Photo by Kristi Willis
Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Chef Rich Taylor
Chef Rich Taylor preparing bouillon. Photo by Kristi Willis
Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Court Bouillon
Seafood stew on the stove. Photo by Kristi Willis
Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Plating Final Touches
Chefs Taylor and Williams plating food for the judges. Photo by Kristi Willis
Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Plating 2
Preparing the judges' plates. Photo by Kristi Willis
Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Judges Plate
The final judge's plate. Photo by Kristi Willis
Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Plating
Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Chef Rich Taylor
Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Court Bouillon
Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Plating Final Touches
Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Plating 2
Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans Judges Plate

Chefs from 14 states battled it out in New Orleans this past weekend to become the king or queen of the 10th Annual Great American Seafood Cookoff. Chefs Rich Taylor and Kimani Williams of Austin's Quality Seafood Market represented Texas this year at the cavernous Morial Convention Center.

The Texas duo prepared a dish aptly named the Texas Two Step, pairing a seafood stew with black drum and shrimp with a cilantro-lime, crab-salad-topped shrimp cake. The competition, started by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a way to highlight sustainable, domestic produce, brought together some of the country's best chefs who showed off seafood from their states.

 The chefs from Quality Seafood initially developed three recipes and held several private tastings before finalizing their dish.

The winner of the event serves as a spokesperson for NOAA, with the opportunity to travel and work with chefs across the country.

Getting the dish to the plate in the short, one-hour cooking time was just half the battle. Some states held cookoffs to pick their chefs, and all the teams spent months developing their final dishes.

The chefs from Quality Seafood initially developed three recipes and held several private tastings before finalizing their dish.

“It was fun to incorporate feedback from our friends and customers to combine the elements for the final dish,” Quality Seafood owner Carol Huntsberger says. “It’s a thrill and an honor to be here, showcase our chefs’ talent and let them shine.”

The Texas team worked well together, effortlessly navigating the small and challenging makeshift kitchen under the pressure of the clock. Working from two stainless steel tables, the chefs did their own two step as they worked two burners and several cutting boards to prepare the two-part dish.

They did have to navigate a few tense moments. Williams had to replace the butane on the burner while cooking the shrimp cakes, and Taylor struggled to get the whipped cream dispenser working, finally turning to the whisk.

Then Taylor wowed the crowd and the hosts by infusing applewood smoke into the bowl to flavor the cilantro cream, an elevated culinary move for a fast-paced contest. Taylor and Williams finished plating with a minute to spare and looked relieved as their dishes were delivered to the judges.

The Louisiana team had a clear home-state cheerleading advantage, but the crowd whooped and hollered for each state as the clocks wound down to the final seconds. It helped that the Texas team had Williams’ family (he grew up in Louisiana and relocated to Austin after Hurricane Katrina) rooting them on. 

In the end, Mississippi chef David Crews of Six Shooter Land & Timber won the cookoff with his Southern Nicoise salad. Regardless of the outcome, Texas’ star shone bright in New Orleans, and Quality Seafood walked away proud.