Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off: King of Kings

Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off: King of Kings

Posted: Jun 21, 2021 5:31 PM

Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser and the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board are set to host the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off: King of Kings in conjunction with A Taste of EatLafayette. This marks the 14th annual Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off and the fourth time the event will be held in Lafayette. This year’s cook-off is stepping away from the traditional format for a year to recognize past winners, showcasing the importance of the event to Louisiana chefs aspiring to be a future King or Queen of Louisiana Seafood. The event will feature 12 past champions squaring off for the ultimate title of King of Kings.

Before the cooking can begin, the 12 past champions and VIPs will attend an Opening Reception at Vestal Restaurant in Lafayette on Monday evening, June 21, where chefs will draw for the cooking order. The reception is invitation only.

On Tuesday evening, June 22, the competition heats up as the past champions face off at the Cajundome Convention Center for the title of “King of Kings”. The chefs get underway at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday with the winner announced around 8:15 p.m. This event is open to the public. Tickets are still available for Tuesday, June 22, at EatLafayette/events. One ticket will get you into both the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off and A Taste of EatLafayette.

The Chefs:

CHEF CORY BAHR 2011 KING OF LASCO

Cory is a culinary and economic leader in Louisiana and deeply involved in the conservation of his beloved South. His newest project is Parish Restaurant located in Monroe, LA. Parish is an inventive take on classic Southern dishes utilizing live-fire cooking that makes use of all the flavors, techniques, and heritage of his beloved Delta region.

Honoring everything important in his South -- community, culture, and culinary heritage -- Cory presents honest dishes with a strong sense of place, for which he has earned national recognition. He's been recognized as Food & Wine's 'People’s Best New Chef' in America, he’s been featured on Food Network as a Food Network Star Finalist, Food & Wine's 'People’s Best New Chef' Gulf Coast, Taste of the South "Taste 50", Food Network’s Chopped! Champion, King of Louisiana Seafood, and Louisiana Cookin’ magazine's 'Chef to Watch.

CHEF BONNIE BREAUX 2017 QUEEN OF LASCO

Chef Bonnie Breaux began her culinary career by opening Breaux Cajun Catering in Covington. After five years, she returned home to Acadiana and became the executive chef of many Acadiana restaurants. While competing in a World Championship Gumbo Cookoff, Chef Bonnie was recognized for her talent and was offered the Executive Chef position at Roux in Tampa, Florida. There, she prepared delicious Louisiana dishes for residents in Florida. While at Roux, the restaurant received many honors, including one for Bonnie's signature dish – “Breaux Shrimp & Grits”. This dish was featured at the 2017 College Football Championship in Tampa. She was also invited to cook for The James Beard Sunday Supper Event.

Chef Bonnie experienced many culinary opportunities throughout the years, including being crowned 2017 “Queen of Louisiana Seafood”. Chef Bonnie was also invited to be part of the culinary team for the Washington, DC Mardi Gras Ball.

This past year she has slowed down due to an injury and is looking forward to getting back into the industry full time. Currently, Chef Bonnie is doing some private chef dinners and working on her very own cookbook.

CHEF AARON BURGAU 2014 KING OF LASCO

Born in New Orleans, Aaron began his culinary career working with some of the city’s most honored chefs, including James Beard Award-winning Susan Spicer (Bayona and Mondo), and local legend, Gerard Maras (Gerard’s Downtown).

In 2006, he became the Executive Chef at Bank Cafe, and that same year was named one of the Top 5 “Chefs to Watch” by Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine.

In 2007, he partnered with longtime friend and entrepreneur Leon Touzet, to open Patois. Since then, Chef Aaron’s food has been recognized annually by The Times-Picayune, and featured in Garden & Gun, among other national, regional, and local publications.

Most recently, he was crowned King Of Louisiana Seafood and represented Louisiana in the 2014 “Great American Seafood Cook-Off”.

Patois’ menu reflects Chef Aaron’s commitment to locally sourced ingredients in classic French cuisine with a patois, or local accent.

CHEF MIKE BREWER 2015 KING OF LASCO

Mike Brewer grew up in Grand Bay Alabama learning how to cook at his mother’s heels. After graduation from high school, he went to the University of South Alabama to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering. After 10 years as an engineer in Alabama, he decided to move to New Orleans to become Vice President of a local engineering firm. Downturns in the financial and energy markets led him to leave engineering and begin a career in hospitality.

Mike has been in the restaurant scene in New Orleans since 1999. He started as a waiter at Brennan’s and quickly moved up to Captain, and then Wine Captain after receiving his entry into the Guild of Master Sommeliers. He left Brennan’s in 2005 and was a Maitre D onboard the NCL Ship MS Pride of America in Hawaii. In early 2006, he returned to New Orleans to head a new restaurant, Jackson, in the Irish Channel. Jackson was voted the Best New Restaurant in 2006 by Gambit readers.

In mid-2007 Jackson closed and Brewer moved to Commander’s Palace to head the wine and liquor programs. After 2+ years, he moved over to Charlie’s Steakhouse as the Executive Chef. Mike opened The Sammich in 2013 and was crowned King of Louisiana Seafood in 2015 and went on the place 3rd in the country in the Great American Seafood Cookoff. Not only was he voted Top 100 Bartenders in America, but he is also a Chef Advocate for Wild American Shrimp and has been featured at the Star Chef’s International Congress in New York. He regularly represents The Louisiana Seafood and Marketing Board at national events.

Since 2015, Mike has collaborated and consulted with several New Orleans and Baton Rouge restaurants including Manning’s, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Mi Mamacita’s, The Riverview Room, and City Pork. After bringing Brechtel Hospitality’s new concepts, Copper Vine and Bonfire Catering to life as Corporate Chef, Mike has moved on to his venture, Nola Geauxst Kitchen. Nola Geauxst is the New Orleans area’s first ghost kitchen featuring one-of-a-kind poboys, wings, and pizzas.

CHEFS CODY & SAMANTHA CARROLL 2013 KING & QUEEN OF LASCO

Born and raised in the small farmer’s town of Batchelor, Louisiana, Chef Cody Carroll always made time for the kitchen. It was in his family’s hunting and fishing camps, preparing Louisiana game, waterfowl, and fish that his talent and passion for cooking flourished.

At the age of 18, Cody left his family’s farm to attend Louisiana State University, where he graduated with a degree in Business. He then enrolled at the Louisiana Culinary Institute to acquire his degree in Culinary Arts. It was here that he met Samantha, his future wife and business partner.

Chef Samantha Carroll grew up in the community of Gonzales, located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in South Louisiana. Her love for the culinary arts stems from waking up on weekend mornings to the distinct scent of roux being prepared in her family’s kitchen for gumbo. To this day, she swears there is no better smell.

Chefs Cody and Samantha graduated from culinary school in January 2010, and just three months later, transformed a former drive-thru convenience store in New Roads into Hot Tails; a rustic, South Louisiana style restaurant. The establishment was intended to be an outlet for the crawfish being raised on their farm but has evolved to include a full menu of their versions of Louisiana classic dishes and elevated comfort food. Their dishes have been referred to as “Hardcore South Louisiana cuisine.”

Since opening the restaurant, they’ve traveled around the world to showcase Louisiana cooking traditions and ingredients, most notably winning the title of “King and Queen of Louisiana Seafood” in 2013.

In December 2017, Louisiana’s very own culinary couple rose to fame as Food Network stars, showcasing their farm-to-table cuisine and unique style in the kitchen as a true dynamic-duo on their show: Cajun Aces.

Since the show wrap in 2018, Samantha was appointed Executive Director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. Honing a new set of skills, still deeply rooted in the culinary industry, she works to promote the consumption of the best seafood the world has to offer, from right here in Louisiana. Cody is currently opening a second Hot Tails Restaurant in Prairieville, Louisiana.

CHEFS KEITH & NEALY FRENTZ 2012 KING AND QUEEN OF LASCO

At an early age, Keith and Nealy Frentz both had aspirations of someday owning a successful restaurant.

Keith was born and raised in Covington, Louisiana, and Nealy was born and raised in Southern California, then moved to Biloxi, Mississippi. Those dreams came true when they opened the doors of LOLA in Covington, Louisiana in January of 2006.

Before the opening restaurant, they both held Sous Chef positions at the world-famous Brennan’s Restaurant on Royal Street in New Orleans. There, they each learned the ins and outs of fine dining kitchen culture and interaction with a variety of people. It was not until Hurricane Katrina came when their reality of restaurant ownership would come true. They evacuated to Covington and one year later LOLA was born. Nealy was 23 and Keith 28.

Keith and Nealy both graduated from the prestigious Johnson & Wales University with degrees in culinary arts which gave them the knowledge and fundamentals of understanding the kitchen. Together with family, schooling, and kitchen life at Brennan’s has helped sculpt LOLA into what it is today, one of the best restaurants on the Northshore. They are always looking for a room to grow and better the community. LOLA supports the farmers of the Covington farmers market as well as local seafood suppliers. We love to keep it LOCAL at LOLA.

LOLA is located in downtown Covington across the street from the St. Tammany Parish courthouse. The building that houses LOLA is the city's historic train depot with a secondary dining room located in a renovated 1920’s dining car. The kitchen is in an actual train caboose. All the original doors and brick make this restaurant very unique. Large crowds fill the restaurant for weekly lunch and weekend dinners. Lola recently celebrated 15 years in business.

Both Keith and Nealy enjoy spending time with their two kids and enjoying life outside the kitchen whenever they get the chance.

CHEF BRIAN LANDRY 2008 KING OF LASCO

Brian Landry is a New Orleans native, passionate chef, a supporter of regional foodways, and dedicated conservationist of Gulf seafood. Brian is the Chef/Owner of QED Hospitality, a restaurant operations management group that runs Jack Rose restaurant, the Bayou Bar, Hot Tin rooftop bar and the Silver Whistle Café within the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans, and Marsh House restaurant, L.A. Jackson rooftop bar & restaurant and coffee shop Killebrew at the Thompson Nashville in Tennessee. Along with business partner Emery Whalen, Brian oversees all operations and the expansion of the QED brand. Brian also serves on the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.

Education: Johnson & Wales University Associate of Arts and Sciences Culinary Arts/Chef Training, 2001; University of Alabama Bachelor of Science, 1998

Notable Work Experience: QED Hospitality (Co-Founder, Co-Owner, Chef) 2018-present; Our House Hospitality (Partner/Chef) 2016-2017; Borgne Restaurant (Partner/Chef) 2012-2018; Galatoire's Restaurant (Executive Chef) 2005-2011

Awards: Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board appointed member (2018), Iron Chef Showdown competitor (2017), Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off winner (2008).

CHEF CHRIS LUSK 2010 KING OF LASCO

Chris Lusk is the Executive Chef of the newly opened Kimpton Hotel Fontenot in the heart of New Orleans’ Central Business District.

Chef Lusk’s menu features refined shareable interpretations of regional classics, including items like Crawtator Crusted Oysters with jalapeno sriracha, mirliton, and bacon lardon; Blue Crab Pimento Cheese with port salut, Calabrian chiles and toasted brioche; and Fruits de Mer Pho, made with cashew hoisin, grouper, shrimp ramen, and crab boullettes.

With more than a decade of experience working in top kitchens around the United States, Chef Lusk is highly skilled in several culinary disciplines, including Southern cooking techniques. Before his current role with Kimpton, Chris was with BRG and One House Hospitality, serving as executive chef of The Pontchartrain Hotel and The Caribbean Room.

Lusk has earned critical acclaim and accolades throughout his culinary career, including being honored as one of Esquire’s “Four Breakout Chefs to Watch” and “Chef to Watch” by Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine in 2009. Additionally, he was selected as a winner of the highly competitive Louisiana Seafood Cook-off in 2010 and was invited to cook at the esteemed James Beard House in 2011.

CHEF TORY McPHAIL 2009 KING OF LASCO and 2009 KING OF GASCO Nationally

Executive Chef Tory McPhail has led the kitchen of Commander’s Palace for 17 years and has been an integral part of the Commander’s Palace culinary team for 27 years.

McPhail hails from the small town of Ferndale, Washington where he learned to appreciate local goods and the comfortable gathering place of his parents’ kitchen. Corn planted in the spring would become dinner in the summer; fish caught in the afternoon from his family’s stocked pond would make it to the plate by dusk. “I knew food didn’t just2 come from the grocery store and magically appear there,” he says. “Being able to watch it all grow gave me a passion for natural foods.”

After high school, McPhail attended South Seattle College and received a degree in culinary science. Compelled by New Orleans’ history, soul, and Mardi Gras celebrations, he moved upon graduation, and at just 19, he was hired by Commander’s Palace Executive Chef Jamie Shannon. He worked diligently through all 12 stations of the kitchen, honing his craft and making a positive impression on his boss.

In search of “as much experience as possible, as quickly as possible,” McPhail later completed a series of stints at several culinary hot spots, including the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida; the Michelin-starred L’Escargot in London and its sister restaurant, the Michelin two-star Picasso Room; and the Caribbean/Creole-intensive Mongoose Restaurant in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But New Orleans called him home in 2001.

Today, McPhail continues his dedication to creating and sustaining strong relationships with local purveyors, as well as executing exciting dishes in the Commander’s kitchen. “I’m always thinking very forward when it comes to Creole food,” he says. A passionate and resolute chef who pursues culinary perfection, McPhail delights in exploring a variety of flavors in his seasonal menus—embracing Creole traditions while updating classic dishes with fresh, local ingredients.

His Creole Seared Gulf Fish, for example, showcases farm-fresh produce like Spring Mushrooms, Corn, Fingerling Potatoes and seared Speckled Trout. McPhail’s masterful work has not only kept Commander’s Palace at the top of critics’ lists, but has also led him to numerous TV appearances, including Bravo’s “Top Chef,” on which he was a guest judge alongside Commander’s Co-Proprietor Ti Adelaide Martin and “The Today Show” where he has appeared regularly to be the voice of New Orleans for the show; CBS’s “Early Show”; “Paula’s Party” with Paula Dean; “After Hours With Daniel Boulud”; and numerous Food Network programs, including “Sara’s Secrets,” “My Country, My3 Kitchen,” “Into the Fire,” and “Bobby Flay’s Food Nation.” Tory also co-hosted “Off the Menu,” which aired on Turner South Network for six years.

A James Beard Rising Star Chef and Best Chef: South winner, McPhail was also named one of the best chefs in the country by TheDailyMeal.com, as one of Saveur magazine’s inaugural “Tastemaker Chefs;” awarded the winner of the Great American Seafood Cook-Off; co-authored Commander’s Wild Side with Martin, a collection of recipes taken from the legendary restaurant’s kitchen; has served on the Nutrition Advisory Board for Cooking Light magazine; launched his sauce line, and has been a spokesperson for Wild American Shrimp and McCormick’s Old Bay seasoning. In 2014 he served The American Chef Corps as a culinary diplomat to Australia. He’s reprised a similar role in London in July 2019 to celebrate the 4th of July. In fall 2019, Chef Tory opened Picnic Provisions & Whiskey with partners Ti Adelaide Martin and Darryl Reginelli. A modern corner restaurant serving food you can eat with your hands – and the best crawfish boil fried chicken – Picnic is waking up that corner of New Orleans with fast fine food and a casual lively atmosphere. Picnic made the list of “Best New Restaurants” in Where Y’at Magazine in 2019 and their Crystal Hot Sauce pulp was named “Condiment of the Year” by Food & Wine in 2019.

Select Honors and Awards

• The Jamie Shannon Outstanding Chef Award (2018)

• Restaurant of the Year Nola.com | The Times-Picayune (2018)

• Food and Wine’s 40 Most Important Restaurants (2018)

• Southern Living’s The South’s Best Restaurant (2017, 2018)

• James Beard Foundation Best Chef: South (2013)

• The Daily Meal’s Best Chefs in America (2013)

CHEF NATHAN RICHARD 2019 KING OF LASCO and 2019 KING OF GASCO Nationally

Nathan Richard’s passion for food was forged in Thibodaux, LA. Nathan began working at Commander’s Palace under Chef Tory MacPhail for 5 years.

Next, he moved to Europe to study different butchers in France and Italy. Nathan later settled in Charleston, SC, where he worked with Mike Lata at Fig and later with Sean Brock at McCrady’s and Husk.

He returned to New Orleans to hone his sausage-making and charcuterie skills at Cochon, under the guidance of Donald Link, then Restaurant R’evolution with John Folse and Rick Tramanto.

His first Executive Chef position was at the bustling Kingfish in the French Quarter, where he worked for 3 years before accepting the Executive Chef position at Cavan in 2017.

Nathan has since returned home to Thibodaux, where he is still involved in the culinary arts as an adjunct Chef at Nicholls State University teaching Advanced Garde Manger.

He continues his focus on community service as the Southeast Ambassador for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Nathan most recently received a “Champions of Service Award” given by Volunteer Louisiana for his work with his non-profit, First Responders Relief Aid, and the Thibodaux Volunteer Fire Department.

CHEF RYAN TRAHAN 2018 KINGS OF LASCO AND 2018 KING OF GASCO Nationally

Chef and Louisiana native, Ryan Trahan has found success in his ability to modernize Southern ingredients. Inspired by elevated hospitality, modern techniques, and worldly culture, Trahan’s restaurants feature fresh new approaches to the preparation of Southern ingredients.

Ryan is a self-taught chef that has lent his expertise to several acclaimed restaurants throughout South Louisiana in his tenure as a chef. In 2017, Trahan was named a Chef to Watch by Louisiana Cookin’ magazine. In 2018, Ryan was named the King of Louisiana Seafood and King of American Seafood after competing and taking first place in the competitions.

Trahan is now the executive chef and partner of a new concept, Vestal, in downtown Lafayette; focusing on live-fire cooking techniques and sustainable southern ingredients.

CHEF ROBERT VASQUEZ 2019 KING OF LASCO, competing in GASCO 2021 since completion was not held in 2020

Chef Vasquez first fell in love with ingredients and recipe development in his mother’s kitchen. She was his first culinary instructor and also his first real boss when he began his career as a dishwasher in his family’s restaurant where his mother was chef. The flavor profiles he learned under her tutelage remain influential in his cuisine to this day.

From the ingredients and techniques of the Southwest kitchen, Chef Vasquez moved on to become saucier in a French fine dining setting. He continued to collect skills from Spain, Mexico, Bermuda, California, China, Singapore, and finally, Louisiana. Whether it was Chef Cary Neff (his mentor for the last three decades), Master German Chef Peter Shaumberg, Swiss Master Chef Otto Weible, or Mr. Bill the prep cook, Robert absorbed and learned from every interaction.

Vasquez’s culinary curiosity also led him to spend some time in the retail side of the food industry. As a member of Whole Foods’ leadership team, he developed recipes, created retail display and food programs, and assisted in the setup and opening of new stores across the region. During that time, Vasquez was able to gain a unique education in organic, healthy products and to develop a deep understanding the production and processing of meat and cheese products as well as the sourcing of produce.

Today, Chef Vasquez draws on his vast restaurant, catering, and retail experience to bring a fresh culinary experience to the Louisiana Northshore at PePe’s Sonoran Cuisine in Covington. The reason he has so much love and respect for Louisiana seafood is the simplicity and variety of offerings. “An ingredient like blue crab or fresh-caught red snapper does not need to be hidden in a complex recipe: it’s all about the possibility in the ingredients and the passion in the chef!”

Honors & Affiliations

LA Fisheries Summit, Cooking Competition Winner 2016

Chef Demonstrator, Vanishing Paradise Event, National Wildlife Federation, 2017

NOWFE, Silver Medal 2016, Gold Medal 2004

Best New Chef in Asia, Beijing 1992

Five Diamond Award, Marquesa, Scottsdale, AZ

Mobile Five Star, Marquesa, Scottsdale, AZ

Best New Restaurant, USA Today, Maquesa, Scottsdale, AZ

Golden Scepter Award, French Restaurant Marius, Coronado Island, CA

Flip My Food w. Chef Jeff Henderson

Beat Bobby Flay, Food Network

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