NEW ORLEANS – 4-H’ers from across the state showed off their culinary skills at the Louisiana 4-H Seafood Cook-off on August 9.
The competition is the beginning of what organizers hope to be an annual event, according to Quincy Cheek, LSU AgCenter family and consumer sciences coordinator for central Louisiana.
“This is the first year that 4-H has been involved in the Great American Louisiana Seafood Cook-off, an annual event in New Orleans. Normally, the professional chefs compete on the Saturday of the cook-off, and culinary school students compete on Sunday,” Cheek said. “But this year we discussed having a competition for 4-H members on the Monday of the event, and it has been a success.”
The first-place winners of the cook-off with their shrimp and crab bisque dish are Mary Bush, a senior at Farmerville High School in Union Parish, and Alex Talberg, a senior at Grant High School in Grant Parish.
Bush and Talberg both say they’ve had a longtime interest in cooking, and this is just one more opportunity to show off their skills.
Bush said she has always felt led to culinary arts, so she decided to join the competition and see what it was about.
“It also shows that 4-H is about more than just animals,” Talberg said. “There are so many other things to do in 4-H.”
The second place team members were Gretchen Shaver, of Red River Parish; Nikeo Brown, of St. Charles Parish, and Kristen Johnson, of Tangipahoa Parish. Their dish was shrimp and corn chowder.
Third place went to Sierra Sanders, of LaSalle Parish; Rayshun Brisker, of Red River Parish, and Emma Hollenshead, of Bossier Parish, with their Cajun Catch – a shrimp-stuffed peppers dish.
Cheek said the event is the brainchild of Dwight Landreneau, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor, and Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.
“They wanted an event on Monday to use the stage and the setup where all of the famous chefs cooked, and the Seafood Promotion Board offered to let 4-H use the stage on Monday, so Dwight and I started planning last year to get some teams together,” Cheek said.
Team members signed up to compete and were trained at the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H University, Clover College track – The Next 4-H Food Star, on the LSU campus in June.
Cheek said the young cooks prepared shrimp dishes that were not nearly as complicated as the professional chefs made.
“We wanted them to prepare dishes that their parents may make. Something that the regular consumer will recreate at home,” she said. “They prepared everything from shrimp creole to curry shrimp and shrimp and corn chowder – your basic dishes with just a little bit of flair.”
Cheek said the young chefs came to New Orleans on Sunday and stayed at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. That evening they toured and had dinner at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House Restaurant.
She said they learned all facets of being a restaurant chef during the tour – from the front of the house back to the dishwashers.
“The Louisiana 4-H Foundation was also a major sponsor of the event. Getting the children here, taking care of their rooms and paying for their meals,” Cheek said. “They were a big help because we didn’t have the money to get that done.”
The foundation also brought in Craven Rand, vice president of operations with the National 4-H Council in Washington, D.C. to be one of the judges.
“I was a chef myself back in the days, and I believe anything the kids are doing that involves food safety and nutrition is obviously very important, not only to 4-H but to the National 4-H Council as well,” Craven said.
Dwight Landreneau, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor, said there is no other 4-H event of this type in the country.
“We’re the first to sponsor a 4-H contest with an event of this magnitude, and we want to open it up to 4-H members from others states next year, so that it will become a national 4-H event,” Landreneau said.
The competition consisted of four teams. Each team was given one hour to prepare their dish and then give a 10-minute presentation to the judges as the dish was being sampled.
In addition to Craven, the other judges were Dr. Mike Strain, Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture; Mary Bartholomew, Dean of the Delgado Community College Culinary School; and Susan Ford, Louisiana Cooking magazine editor.
Eric Eskew, executive director of the Louisiana 4-H Foundation, said this was a great opportunity to sponsor an educational trip for 4-H’ers from throughout the state.
“You really couldn’t put a price tag on the value that a trip like this provides for these 4-H members, many who had never been to New Orleans. So it was just a good all-around opportunity,” Eskew said.Johnny Morgan