Seafood Throwdown at the Rockport Harvest Festival
When Heather Atwood from Food for Thought and the Gloucester Daily Times called me early in the week and told me that they were looking for a competitor for the Seafood Throw down because one of the hotel chefs was unable to compete, it took me about 5 minutes and a little convincing from Heather to say “what the heck, I’ll do it!” In the last few months I have been involved in two live cook offs, one in Newport, RI and one in Chicago (more on that another time) and sent recipes to cooking contests at least once or twice a week–you could say that competition is in my blood I guess. I was told that I could bring an assistant, someone to help me out with the cooking and chaos and together we would hope to create the winning dish. Who would be available and willing to subject themselves to this type of competition at the last minute?
When I told my 9 year old Lily that I was doing a Throwdown in Rockport on Saturday the first thing she asked me was, “who is going to be your assistant” and that answered my question right there—I pointed right at her. She leaped up from her chair and gave me a giant hug and the smile on her face was priceless. Lily loves to cook!
Here’s Lil before the action got underway posting with the shredded money scarecrow in front of the bank.
The fun thing about these Throwdowns is the mystery seafood. Although Lily is allergic to all seafood–fish and shellfish–I figured that she could deal with other elements of the dish so that was the plan. And as for plans, we talked about what we could make with a fillet, a fish steak, lobster, mussels and even steamers and we felt pretty good about our strategy. I was assured that because I had not gone to culinary school and have absolutely no formal training I would not have to contend with a whole fish–whatever the secret ingredient was, it would be ready to cook. We packed the car with ingredients, equipment including my Cuisinart, pans, bowls, tongs, spatulas, you name it……we were ready! And also a list for the grocery store to grab perishables on the way.
We arrived at the big tent on T wharf and since we had a few hours before the competition, Lil and I enjoyed the Rockport Harvest Festival for a while. Even though it was really really blustery people seemed in good spirits and there were lots of people in town enjoying the festivities. And then, it was time to cook. The classic comment from Lily was “look Mom, I’m getting my game face on!” with a big growl after it……..
Here is Heather Atwood and Sandy Farrel introducing the competitors–it was me and Lil against Chef Steve Ryan from the Emerson Inn ( http://www.emersoninnbythesea.com/about.htm) in Rockport and his chef brother. But we were undaunted–we had a plan for almost anything and we were sticking to it……..remember that……..a plan for ALMOST anything…….
and the secret seafood is…..JONAH CRAB! Ooops…we didn’t have a plan for that. As a matter of fact I had never cooked a crab in my entire life. And I rarely eat them, as delicious as they are.
But we forged on. With a few little tips from our judges and our audience we got the crabs going. Whenever I watch a cooking challenge show on TV I get nervous if the contestants don’t get their protein on quickly–these things take time to cook and deal with. With the crabs in the pot I had time to think………..until one tried to escape!
So I put a pile of pans on top of the baking sheet and that was the end of that!
We got some claws and whole crabs cooked and in the meantime, Lily was working on the grilled sweet potatoes. It was a very important job and she did it beautifully. I also cleaned and stemmed the rainbow chard and got it ready to cook.
Lily was the most wonderful assistant possible. However, we were at a distinct disadvantage—Lily is allergic to all seafood and therefore couldn’t help me pick the meat out of the crabs. So I got down to it. And cracked shells, and picked meat and cracked more and picked more—I wasn’t making much progress but it gave me time to think about what i was going to do with this meat–and I decided to make crab cake but needed a heck of a lot more meat to do so.
And then our great friend Jannine and her husband Dan showed up at the back of the tent to cheer us on—and asked me if I needed help. Since Lil was allergic it was determined that because I had a disadvantage that Jannine could come in an pick the crabs for me–and thank goodness for her! I now owe her big time! She picked enough for me to make six gorgeous cakes.
I had Lily prepping ingredients for the cakes, zesting lemons, chopping herbs etc. We didn’t want to do too much to the crab because like with most delicate seafood, you don’t want to mask its natural flavor. Luckily, I had brought eggs, panko crumbs and herbs from my garden with me and we went for it. Remember–I said we were prepared for everything!
I formed the cakes gently (the secret to good crab cakes), heated some olive oil and placed them in the pan. I gave them time to brown, held my breath and flipped them over—and voila! Gorgeous!
I whipped up a sauce in the food processor (yes, I dragged it all the way down there) using more herbs and olive oil etc., heated the honey glaze for the beautiful grilled sweet potatoes that Lily had made and seasoned the chard that had been cooking with the shallots and garlic.
We were ready to plate–and await our fate. But win, lose or drawn it was an amazing day—and I could not be more proud of my girl Lily for her skill and help and more thankful to my friend Jannine for pitching in to help when I needed her (desperately) and being a great friend! And this is the plate we came up with:
Yes, I should have put a lemon wedge or something in the middle of the plate because the blank space looks funny, but I was pretty darned proud of our efforts. The judges, two wonderful men from Rockport, Bill Lee and Bob Smith, with vast experience in both cooking and eating local seafood were the judges. And I must say, before we go any farther, how terrific our competition was–Chef Steve and his brother, also a local culinary professional, produced a gorgeous plate, using the meat of the crabs and the shells and bodies to make a stock and produced a gorgeous plate–they also made a crab cake and a crabmeat stuffed crab shell–but because I was cooking I didn’t get a picture of it! The were wonderful, friendly generous guys who were as honored to be there as we were and I would say had as much fun as we did–and they had a great time with Lily too, not taking themselves or the competition too seriously for sure–they were terrific competitors!
Anyway, it all came down to the judging–and this is what happened–thank you to my friend Donna Ardizzoni for the great video!
I am so proud of my girl, grateful to my friend Jannine and so happy to have been part of the ThrowDown!