In addition to local meat and produce, last Saturday’s farmers’ market in West Tisbury featured some healthy local competition between two well-known Vineyard chefs. In the third annual Seafood Throwdown sponsored by the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and the Dukes County Fishermen’s Association, chefs Jo Maxwell of Chesca’s in Edgartown and Teddy Diggs of Home Port in Menemsha met stove-to-stove in a stormy cook-off.
Warren Doty, president of the Dukes County Fishermen’s Association, acted as the play-by-play announcer and commentator for the event. The chefs arrived on the scene with three ingredients of their choice — all other ingredients were to be purchased at the farmers’ market, with a special secret main ingredient provided by the event organizers.
“Let’s reveal the mystery fish,” said Mr. Doty at 9:45 a.m. in front of a gathering crowd of people wearing ponchos and huddled under umbrellas. “Bring forward the cooler.”
A peek inside the small blue cooler revealed the many puckered faces of scup, also known as porgy, caught by a local fisherman in Menemsha.
Each chef was given $50 for shopping. They quickly ran from the tent and into the market, aided by sous chefs, David Joyce for Ms. Maxwell and Jason Borajkiewicz for Mr. Diggs.
Mr. Doty reminded the crowd of the purpose of the contest — to promote local seafood. Mr. Doty said later in an interview, “We want to keep our small harbors and owner-operated fisheries going. We want to emphasize local food and local fish. Local products should be on the top of everyone’s list.“
Niaz Dorry, coordinating director of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, also spoke about the importance of local fishing to the local economy and community. She warned the crowd that small-scale fisheries are fading, and industrial fishing is taking over. The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance works to support local fishermen through awareness, petitioning, marketing and promoting Community Supported Fisheries.
Mr. Diggs and Ms. Maxwell came back to their cooking stations holding baskets overflowing with green leaves and colored stalks. At Mr. Doty’s signal, they began scaling, cutting, grilling and cooking.
The judges for the contest were Robert Lionette, now working for Morning Glory Farm, Susie Middleton, who recently authored the cookbook Fast, Fresh and Green, and Ben deForest, chef at the Red Cat Kitchen in Oak Bluffs. The competing chefs were judged on four criteria: taste, use of the whole fish, presentation and originality.
Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Joyce went to work on a vichyssoise, made from leeks, onions, potatoes and fish stock. Mr. Diggs and Mr. Borajkiewicz prepared the scup for grilling with a side of farmer’s slaw. Late in the contest, Mr. Diggs added some unexpected flare to his dish. He placed a few oak logs on the grill to give a smoky flavor to the scup, and revealed a secret plan to use even more of the meat: fishcakes.
As the hour progressed, eager onlookers leaned in for a closer look, and sniff, of the colorful dishes being prepared. Mr. Doty continued his commentary, too.
“Just grillin’ in the rain, folks,” he said, adding, “can the chefs handle the conditions?”
Evidently, they could. At 11 a.m. the three judges sat down to wonderfully prepared plates, all the courses looking just as picturesque as Mr. Joyce’s artichoke-dotted chef’s pants. And the judges enjoyed every bite. They praised both chefs on their performances and adherence to the contest’s objectives.
Mr. Diggs ultimately won the morning cook-off. He insisted that his secret ingredient had been the rainwater. Both chefs gave out free samples of their locally inspired masterpieces, much to the delight of the soaked crowd.
“The chefs did a marvelous job in rainy conditions,” said Mr. Doty. “And I was surprised that we had such a good audience. Hats off to everyone.”