A Taste of Southern Grown (recipes included)

Jul 22 2015

by Cheri Leavy


My hometown, the Golden Isles of Georgia, was the setting last month for Southern Grown presented by Sea Island and Local Palate.  Some of my favorite chefs, mixologists, craftsmen and musicians were on the scene.  It would be hard to pick a favorite part of the festival because the Fish Fry on Rainbow Island with guest chefs from around the South was pretty phenomenal and the Avett Brothers playing on the golf course by the sea was truly epic.

SG food session

I will share a taste of my experience.  I attended the cooking presentation, The Gulf and The Atlantic – Southern Bi-Coastal.  The 2009 James Beard Award class for Best Chef South and Best Chef Southeast, John Currence and Mike Lata, put the pole to plate philosophy to the test on the dock of The Cloister. I will share a little I gleaned about how these charming fellas handle seafood from Southern waters of the Atlantic and the Gulf.

Chef Currence a.k.a. Big Bad Chef prepared seared tuna to perfection as well as a crab salad and Chef Lata served a smoked amberjack paté and his famous pickled shrimp.



Big Bad Chef’s Tips for Seafood

SG crab

• NO pasteurized or frozen crab.  An abomination. You can freeze shrimp and fish but not scallops.

• In looking back at his mother and grandmother’s mayonnaise salads and creating his own renditions, a dollop of good mayo is ok just no globby amount.

• Cracked black pepper is key to all dishes – grind it fresh.  His mom said at the end of a dish, always add more black pepper.  And it works.

• Add a touch of ice water to blue lump crab to brighten it.  Always serve crab very cold.

• Do not over cook your food. (his tuna was seared to perfection)

SG tuna


Chef Lata’s Tips for Seafood

SG lata shrimp

• Develop relationships with your fishermen.  Support local fleets. If you aren’t on the coast develop a relationship with your favorite chef and have them get the freshest they can procure.

• Don’t be afraid to try different species of fish.  There are so many underutilized catches.

• Eat wild caught seafood.  Fishermen are the last hunters in the world.

• Consider taking leftover seafood like shrimp and then pickling them.  Smoke the fish.  Preserve it when you buy too much.


The Ordinary’s Pickled Shrimp

Recipe courtesy of Chef Mike Lata

Serves 12

This is a great dish for entertaining, as it feeds a crowd and is best when made well ahead of time.  It is also versatile – the vegetables can vary by season, adding asparagus and artichokes in spring, ripe cherry tomatoes and zucchini in summer, and butternut squash in the fall.  Served with grilled bread and a dollop of aioli.


1 bulb of fennel, shaved crosswise and blanched

1 small carrot, peeled and cut thin crosswise into coins and blanched

3 lbs shrimp, shells on (21/25 count)

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons each coriander and fennel seed

1/2 teaspoon each caraway and cumin

1 pinch crushed red pepper

1 red onion, julienned

1 red bellpepper, julienned

3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup crisp dry white wine

1 tablespoon freshly picked thyme

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley

1/4 cup tender celery leaves


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice water and set aside.  When the water reaches a boil, add fennel and cook for 1-2 minutes, until crisp tender.  Using a slotted spoon, remove fennel from boiling water and transfer to the ice bath to stop the cooking.  Bring the water back to a boil and repeat this process with the carrot.  Remove the vegetables from the ice bath and set aside.  Add more ice to the bowl if it has all melted.

Finally, bring the water to a gentle simmer, add shrimp and poach until shells have turned pink and shrimp are just cooked through, about 2-4 minutes.  Immediately transfer shrimp to the ice bath.  When cool enough to handle, peel and devein the shrimp.  Arrange prepared shrimp in the bottom of a large, shallow baking dish and set aside.

Place a large, heavy bottomed skillet or saucepan over medium heat and add half of the extra virgin olive oil.  Add fennel seed, coriander, cumin, caraway, and crushed pepper and cook, stirring, until spices are toasted and fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.  Add red onion, bell pepper, and garlic to the pan and saute briefly, 2-3 minutes.  Stir in sherry vinegar, white wine, thyme, salt, and remaining olive oil.  Bring mixture to a boil, then fold in reserved carrot and fennel, stirring to coat.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

Pour the marinade over the shrimp.  Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.  Before serving, allow shrimp to come to room temperature.  Stir in fresh parsley and garnish with celery leaves.

Chef Mike Lata VIDEO making his pickled shrimp

(pictured at top, Cheri and Vance Leavy, Alison and Jacob Sigmon and Libba and Chris Osborne)





Cheri Leavy View More Blog Posts from this Author

Cheri Leavy is a connector, cheerleader and marketing consultant for fellow entrepreneurs.
Building rapport and strengthening a sense of community:
• A community of female entrepreneurs through the The Southern Coterie and The Southern C Summit
• The faces and places of Athens that make our city so vibrant through guide2athens
• A community of devoted football fans through Bulldawg Illustrated
- Contributing editor to Coastal Illustrated, Executive Board Member of the UGA Alumni Association

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