October is National Seafood Month and in celebration of what’s best about Lousiana and Coastal Alabama seafood cookery get to know the chefs who continually are making outstanding contributions to the local seafood industry, put their skills and knowledge to test in culinary competitions, and walked away with a real crown. These chefs, respected leaders within their communities, are passionate about the bounties of the local waters and its impact on their region’s culture. Who are these royals? Mindy Bianca and her staff at Mindy Bianca Public Relations did the hard work of rounding up their “e-fish-cient” list. And I’m reporting on what they discovered here.
Chef Amanda Cusey
Favorite Seafood Dish to Make: Fish and Grits
Though she grew up in the southwest United States, Chef Amanda trained and worked extensively in Europe during her culinary journey. She received her Cordon Bleu training in Surrey, England, and worked in restaurants across England and Ireland – perhaps most notably serving as head chef for a Michelin Star chef’s pop-up restaurant in Dublin – before setting down roots in Lake Charles. Her international experience shines through at The Terrace, where Italian influence meets Louisiana flavors. In June 2022, she helped break glass ceilings as she was named the Queen of Louisiana Seafood – only the second ever in the 15-year history of the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off. Her winning dish? Pan-seared red drum over tomato polenta with a crawfish cream sauce.
Chef Jim Smith
Favorite Seafood Dish to Make: Oysters – in any style!
Though he’s famous for his delicious Lane Cake, the state dessert of Alabama, Chef Jim is also known for being a voice for sustainable and local food education. When he served as Executive Chef for the State of Alabama, he focused on sourcing local Alabama ingredients and supporting farmers and fishermen.
In 2011, Chef Jim was dubbed King of American Seafood and traveled the country introducing people to the world of sustainable seafood. He has continued his advocacy efforts as he’s moved forward in his career … and that included representing the U.S. Seafood Industry in this year’s National Geographic Traveller Food Festival in London and appearances in multiple seasons of “Top Chef.” Now he’s the executive chef at Hummingbird Way, sharing his love for local seafood with every diner who walks through his doors. Prior to 2023, he was the only Alabama chef who had ever taken home the crown of King of American Seafood, which leads us to our next chef.
Chef Brody Olive
Favorite Seafood Dish to Make: Tiradito (Peruvian take on sashimi with citrus sauce)
Home to the National Shrimp Festival, Experience the Oyster seafood festival, and other notable seafood events, the twin beach cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, are certainly the place to be if you want to find some of the best seafood along the Gulf Coast. With more than 20 years working in the seafood industry, Alabama native Chef Brody has definitely made his culinary mark.
He continues to impress diners across the five restaurants and banquet facilities he oversees at the Perdido Beach Resort. He embraces the culinary ways of the Gulf Coast, putting the freshest and best locally sourced ingredients on every plate. Besides the numerous Chef and Restauranteur of the Year awards he has earned throughout his career, Chef Brody is now the newest “royal” in the roundup.
In August, he was crowned King of American Seafood in the Great American Seafood Cook-Off, bringing the title back home to Alabama for the first time since 2011, when Chef Jim Smith (above) earned the honor. With saltwater catfish, mole crabs and Gulf shrimp in his winning dish, how could he not wow the judges?
Chef Nathan Richard
Favorite Seafood Dish to Make: Seafood Stuffed Flounder
Besides the crown he received for becoming the Great American Seafood King in 2019, Chef Nathan wears many hats, including professor, private catering business owner and volunteer firefighter … which means he knows how to (safely) turn up the heat in the kitchen! Though he moved to Europe to cook in France and Italy after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Louisiana remained in his heart. Chef Nathan returned to work at restaurants throughout the American South and settled back in Thibodaux, Louisiana, a few years ago, ready to embrace the Cajun lifestyle once more. When you’re surrounded by the pantry of fresh ingredients that the bayous of Louisiana provide, it only makes sense to cook what you know.
Chef Nathan’s winning cook-off dish was a crawfish and goat cheese king cake, complete with Cajun caviar.
Chefs Keith and Nealy Frentz
Favorite Seafood Dish to Make: Louisiana Seafood Gumbo and Pan-Fried Speckled Trout with Capers and Lemon
Chefs Keith and Nealy, a husband-and-wife team, were forced out of New Orleans in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit, and came to settle in the nearby Northshore. Though they’d both held prestigious restaurant chef positions, they had always dreamed of owning their own restaurant. Thus, LOLA was born. Housed in a historic train depot with the restaurant kitchen tucked away in a caboose, this unique dining establishment keeps it local with fresh ingredients sourced from local farmers and seafood suppliers.
In 2012, the pair was proclaimed King and Queen of Louisiana Seafood. A year later, Chef Nealy placed second in the popular cooking show “Chopped.” The couple has continued to represent St. Tammany Parish and Louisiana seafood in both their culinary travel and work at LOLA.
Chef Nathan Richard’s Crawfish and Oyster Boudin
Makes 6 links
- 1 pound crawfish tail meat
- 1 pound oysters
- 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/2 cup green onion, green and white finely chopped
- 1 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup poblano peppers, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3 cups cooked long-grain white rice
- 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons green onion, tops only sliced
- 8 ounces prepared hog casings
In a large bowl, combine crawfish, oysters, salt and peppers. Set aside. In large skillet over medium heat, add canola oil, and cook onions, peppers, celery, garlic and tomato paste until softened, about 5 minutes. Add crawfish/oyster mixture, and cook 15 minutes more. Remove from heat, and fold in rice, parsley and green onion tops.
Stuff casings while filling is still hot, twisting into 4-inch links. In large pan, add crawfish boudin links, and cover with water. Cook over medium-high heat, keeping just below a simmer; cook until heated through, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain. In a large skillet, cook boudin links over medium-high heat until golden brown on all sides
For extra kick, season the bread crumbs, with salt, pepper or cayenne, if you like.