4-H culinary competitors showcase Louisiana seafood at Smithsonian exhibition

Karol Osborne  |  12/14/2018 9:55:35 PM

(12/14/2018) POLLOCK, La. -- Seafood in Louisiana is synonymous with fun-filled family gatherings, joyous celebrations and generally ‘passing a good time,’ and few know better the value of seafood to Louisiana than student competitors in 4-H seafood cookery contests.

Visitors to the LSU AgCenter Grant Walker Educational Center had a chance to sample some of the state’s finest seafood dishes prepared on-site by three 4-H culinary teams as part of “Water/Ways,” a Smithsonian Museum on Main Street traveling exhibit special event held Dec. 13.

The importance of having a healthy, clean water system to allow the Louisiana seafood industry to flourish cannot be understated, said Grant Walker director Christine Bergeron.

“Our culinary event showcases the partnership between water and the seafood industry with delicious seafood dishes such as blackened alligator salad, crawfish and shrimp tacos,” Bergeron said.

Teams from Avoyelles, Rapides and Winn parishes set up cooking stations and prepared dishes using freshwater and Gulf Coast seafood selections, including shrimp, crawfish and alligator.

“This event highlights how important the bounty produced from our waterways is to Louisiana culture through the dishes we create with seafood,” said AgCenter nutrition agentQuincy Vidrine.

Stephon and Steven Wilson from Winn Parish are brothers who started competing in the Next Healthy Food Star seafood cook-off at 4-H University when they were in high school.

After taking first place, they went on to compete at the national 4-H cook-off. Now juniors at Grambling State University, they are still inspired to cook for themselves and their family.

“It was a great learning experience,” said Stephon Wilson. The brothers recreated their state-winning recipe, blackened alligator with apple andouille vinaigrette, for the Smithsonian tasting event.

In looking for recipes, Vidrine said, shrimp, crawfish and crab are what teams typically consider first.

“These guys from Winnfield wanted to try alligator and I thought that was very adventurous of them,” she said.

In addition to developing culinary skills and learning about food safety and the seafood industry, Vidrine said, the 4-H competition promotes workforce development.

“They were all so poised in their presentations as well as knowledgeable and well-spoken,” said Vicki Buckhalter, a visitor to the event.

The four-member Rapides Parish team has been cooking together since elementary school, first as part of AgCenter-sponsored Kid Chef summer camps and later serving as counselors with the parish Teen Chef program, said Amy Cedars, a Rapides Parish 4-H volunteer leader.

The team offered a twist on their original recipe, switching from alligator to crawfish for colorful Louisiana crawfish street tacos served with a variety of fresh vegetable salads featuring corn, jicama and red cabbage.

“I am a competitive person, and I love to cook, so combining those two things makes it fun,” said Grace Christian School freshman Matthew Magano.

Mattie Cedars, a junior at Oak Hill High School who cooks regularly for her family, said cooking is a challenge that has taught her how to better handle unexpected situations.

Northwestern State University sophomore Logan Cheek said the competition has helped him learn how to work on a team. He and teammate Jordan Elie have seafood allergies, and working together they created an original recipe that all could enjoy.

“Not only do we encourage students to create seafood recipes that people can actually cook at home, we also want them to find healthier ways to prepare them,” Vidrine said.

Avoyelles Parish 4-H’er Coralie Deloach especially likes the salsa she created to serve with her sautéed Cajun shrimp tacos.

“It is low sodium with cucumbers, avocados, tomatoes, red onion and garlic — very healthy and light,” she said.

The Smithsonian Water/Ways exhibition will continue at Grant Walker through Dec. 18.

“Water/Ways” is a unique collaboration among the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, state humanities councils across the nation and local host institutions. To learn more about “Water/Ways,” view exhibition descriptions and tour schedules, visit www.sites.si.edu.

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Brothers Stephon (right) and Steven Wilson from Winn Parish prepare their 4-H state-winning dish, blackened alligator with apple andouille vinaigrette, as part of “Water/Ways,” a Smithsonian Museum on Main Street traveling exhibit special event held Dec. 13 at the LSU AgCenter Grant Walker Educational Center. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter nutrition agent Quincy Vidrine, right, watches as members of the Rapides Parish team prepare colorful Louisiana crawfish street tacos as part of “Water/Ways,” a Smithsonian Museum on Main Street traveling exhibit special event held Dec. 13 at the LSU AgCenter Grant Walker Educational Center. Pictured with Cheek, from left, are Logan Cheek, Matthew Magnano and Mattie Cedars. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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