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Mississippi flavors win regional competition
ST. MARTIN – Young chefs put a Mississippi twist on a brunch favorite to create the winning entry in the first-ever Southern Regional 4-H Seafood Cook-Off, held in New Orleans.
Adriana Wilson, Sarah Soares, Cory Martin and Jarod Harris, seniors in the hospitality and tourism management program at St. Martin High School, prepared their Mississippi-Style Crabmeat Benedictine once a week throughout the summer to prepare for the competition, which is part of the Great American Seafood Cook-Off.
Evelyn DeAngelo, Jackson County 4-H agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, recruited the St. Martin students to give them a unique experience that involved their interest in the culinary arts.
“They developed their recipes in May and practiced every Wednesday this summer,” DeAngelo said, “Each team member learned how to prepare every aspect of the dish just in case there was a last-minute emergency.”
Instead of the usual English muffin, the team substituted a pan-fried cheddar biscuit to give the dish a little crunch. The biscuit was topped with a poached egg, Hollandaise sauce spiced with cayenne pepper and Dijon mustard, and sautéed Mississippi Gulf Coast blue crab. A side of marinated asparagus gave color to the plate, which was garnished with diced Roma tomatoes and paprika. Finally, a chilled watermelon salad with mojito syrup and a fresh mint garnish served in a sugar-rimmed porcelain salad dish offered a sweet Southern taste to the judges, who were impressed.
The cook-off required the team to prepare their dish in 60 minutes in front of an audience and with videographers looming over their shoulders.
Sarah Soares said it was nerve-wracking to have the video cameras in her face.
“But after a while, you forget that they’re there and just focus on your cooking,” she said.
The team prepared five plates, four for the judges and one for the media. Then the team stood before the panel of judges. Each team member introduced the component he or she had prepared and the impact of the ingredients on Mississippi’s economy. They also discussed how they handled food safety in the kitchen and the dish’s nutritional value.
“Fabulous! Your professionalism was evident,” one judge commented. “Presentation on the plate was gorgeous. Your verbal team presentation was also very well done, and you were confident.”
Other judges praised the team’s personality, creativity and culinary imagination. Two of the judges gave the Mississippi team perfect scores in all three areas: dish presentation, creativity and flavor. The Jackson County 4-H’ers were the only team from Mississippi, and they competed against teams from Louisiana, Arkansas and South Carolina.
The team was positive their dedication would pay off.
“We worked hard on perfecting our dish all summer, making changes to fit the southern Mississippi style,” said Cory Martin.
Jarod Harris, who compared the competition to the popular Food Network show “Iron Chef” and its famous Kitchen Stadium, focused on the taste of their winning brunch treat.
“How can you not love something with 4 ounces of crabmeat on it?” he said.
The experience has strengthened the resolve of each team member to continue the pursuit of culinary perfection both in next year’s competition and beyond.
“We will have to return next year and compete as reigning champs,” said Ariana Wilson, whose experience in the competition confirmed her dream to own a restaurant someday. “I’m expecting some more brainstorming and practices to come out of ‘the dream team’ soon.”