The State Fair of Louisiana is the largest event held in the Shreveport area annually — visitors enjoy everything from dual Ferris wheels and spinning carnival rides to livestock shows, endless food booths, and even a complete circus “under the big top.”
Cooking contests at the fair have also attracted crowds from around the state, and this year was the first that included seafood. It came with a hefty $2,100 prize from British Petroleum awarded on November 6, divided among winners in six categories: Oyster, Blue Crab, Finfish, Shrimp, Alligator and Crawfish.
Contest Director Terry Foster said the contest was a way for the region to show that the seafood industry was alive and well.
“We’re trying to build the industry back up, and this is a great way to do it,” she said. “This is the first seafood-specific contest for the home cook that I know of that’s been held anywhere in the state since the oil spill.”
About 50 entries were judged by local restaurant owners and food industry representatives from Columbia Cafe, Vince’s South Port Restaurant, Shaver’s Catering, Ralph & Kacoo’s, The Wooden Spoon, The Chocolate Crocodile, the Culinary Arts Program at Bossier Parish Community College, and others.
Home-cooks Khuria Kelly and her mother, Zondrian Kelly-Mack, of Bossier, City, Louisiana, entered Shrimp Chimichanga with Pico de Gallo and Guacomole, winning first place in the Shrimp category.
“I just cook at home and use Louisiana seafood, and thought I’d give this a shot,” said Kelly. “I’m glad I did.”
Alex Talberg and his mother, Lisa, traveled with their family from Pollock, La., and submitted dishes in four different categories. They won for two: Yummy Topped Catfish and Cajun Crawfish Caviar.
While prepping dishes prior to the judging, Talberg explained that because of strict regulations imposed by the state, local seafood is safer today than most people realize.
“It’s much healthier than you think compared to what’s imported,” he said. “They don’t have the same regulations in China. What you get locally doesn’t just taste better, it really is better for you.”
Contest judge Jamie Burns with The Wooden Spoon catering company in Bossier City, Louisiana, said choosing one dish over another was dependant on looks as well as taste.
“You want to make sure the main ingredient is prominent in appearance. If it’s crawfish, you have to see crawfish. Local seafood makes such a difference, too. There’s more impact, knowing it comes from your area and that the shrimpers are taking special care to bring top-notch stuff to you. The people making a living in this area are bringing us what they consider the best quality there is, and that’s vital.”
“We’re encouraged by the renewal of the seafood industry,” said Henry Burns, District 9 State Representative, contest judge and co-owner of The Wooden Spoon catering company. “Even up here in North Louisiana, we understand how important this is to our economy and the country. This is a billion dollar industry, and it’s taken some hard hits with the spill and hurricanes … but if you want the best seafood, then you will still get it from Louisiana.”