Quincy Vidrine, Landry, Robin B.
Quincy L. Vidrine and Robin Landry
The world of culinary arts is a growing, ever-changing realm that interests many young 4-H’ers. Traditionally, 4-H programming has focused on commodity cook-offs and nutrition education workshops to introduce youth to basic cooking skills, food safety and workforce preparation. But in 2010, a new competition was introduced into the Louisiana 4-H program –– the Great American Seafood Cook-Off: 4-H Edition –– which takes these experiences to the next level and teaches students culinary arts.
The 4-H Edition is patterned after and conducted in the same venue as the Great American Seafood Cook-Off, which pits professional chefs from across the United States against one another to prepare their best dish using domestic seafood products. The two events are televised before a live audience in New Orleans at the Morial Convention Center.
Instead of chefs, the 4-H Edition features teams of two to four 4-H members in ninth through 12th grades. The contest focus is on preparing domestic seafood in a healthful dish that anyone can prepare at home.
At first only Louisiana 4-H’ers were involved but now the contest is open to other states in the South. During the 2018 competition, which was the largest to date, there were teams from Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and two teams from Texas, in addition to the Louisiana team.
At the state competitions, teams compete against each other to determine an overall winner. Teams from various parishes or counties may work with their 4-H agents and a combination of an agriculture and natural resources agent or nutrition agent to develop a recipe with acceptable side dishes. They may be trained by 4-H agents and volunteers, but they must do research on the chosen seafood and agricultural commodities used in the dish and any accompanying elements that may be important in the dish. The team that is awarded first place receives a $1,000 cash prize sponsored by the Louisiana 4-H Foundation. Also, the first eight teams to register receive a $500 travel stipend from the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.
Recipes are required to be healthy, with an eye toward keeping the dish low in fat and sodium. Recipes for an entry must contain no more than 750 calories per serving, which includes a 3- to 4-ounce serving of the seafood and all sides. 4-H’ers have a total of one hour to prepare a dish using United States-harvested seafood. When they register, teams are required to provide nutritional information that includes serving size, calories per serving, total fat grams per serving and sodium per serving in milligrams. Using that information, contest coordinators conduct a nutrition analysis to determine if the recipe meets the requirements.
While competitors must use only domestic seafood, seafood harvested from the Gulf of Mexico is preferred. The contest coordinators provide a list of vendors and purveyors of Gulf seafood to all contestants, and all seafood is inspected by contest officials to determine the country of origin. For the side dishes and other ingredients, the teams are encouraged to use commodities from their respective states. Georgia teams often find a way to include peaches, and in 2018 the Texas teams created a seafood version of Tex-Mex favorites.
For the competition, teams have one hour to prepare their dish and plate it. Team oral presentations must be prepared in advance and not exceed five minutes. All members of the team must participate in the preparation, presentation and cleanup of the contest equally. Teams participating prepare five identical plated servings of their entrée, garnished and served appropriately. One plated serving is provided to each of the four judges with one available for the media to photograph.
The four judges for the competition vary from year to year, but there have been a few that presided over the tasting multiple years in a row. Chef Randy Cheramie, culinary instructor from the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University and a former 4-H’er, has served as a judge three years.
The 4-H Edition participants have had the privilege of receiving advice from celebrity chefs, such as Cory Bahr, Paula Deen, John Folse, and Cody and Samantha Carroll. Not only do the 4-H youth compete, but they also spend the weekend in New Orleans and tour local food attractions, including the farmers market, the rooftop garden at the French Quarter location of Rouses, the crab dock of a local fisher, and Sal Sunseri’s P&J Oyster Company. The students are also feted the night before competition at celebrated seafood restaurant Drago’s, where owner Tommy Cvitanovich gives insights in the culinary industry.
Local hosts narrate the competition for the audience and interject food facts and humor. For an added bit of theater, the entire event is filmed and presented as a live cooking show. After one hour of preparation, students plate and move onto the stage to explain their dish while the judges taste. The students will give a complete rundown of what makes their dish special. Judges then dispense advice and explain why they liked their creations.
Quincy Vidrine is a family and consumer sciences extension agent with the LSU AgCenter based in Rapides Parish. Robin Landry is the family and consumer sciences regional coordinator for the Southwest Region and is based in Assumption Parish.
(This article appears in the summer 2019 edition of Louisiana Agriculture.)
One of the Texas teams at the 2018 edition of the Great American Seafood Cook-Off: 4-H Edition in New Orleans creates a Tex-Mex inspired seafood dish for the judges. Photo by Johnny Morgan
First-place winners at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off: 4-H Edition at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center in 2017 were Sarah Cline, Caroline Benedict and Sophie Elliott, all seniors at that time at Pointe Coupee High School. They receive their prize from Louisiana 4-H Foundation Executive Director Patrick Tuck. Photo by Johnny Morgan
The winning dish at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off: 4-H Edition in 2017 was a grilled shrimp with citrus salad by the Louisiana team. Photo by Johnny Morgan
Competitors in the 2018 Great American Seafood Cook-Off: 4-H Edition in New Orleans listen to Chef Randy Cheramie, instructor at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute in Thibodaux, Louisiana, critique their work. Photo by Johnny Morgan