By E-CHING LEE
‘Tis the season. The time for fresh local seafood, fun rides and fabulous bands has returned.
From Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, the North Carolina Seafood Festival will continue its tradition started in 1987, of feeding and entertaining crowds along Morehead City’s waterfront.
“We have to come up with something every year to keep everyone coming back,” says Stephanie McIntyre, festival director. McIntyre is raising the stakes because the event is celebrating its 25th year. Every year, a planning committee devises “fun little ‘tweaky’ things” to keep the experience fresh for attendees — and to keep people guessing about what is in store.
For example, McIntyre reveals that this year, SasSea, the Seafood Festival’s mascot, will have a cake to celebrate her 25th birthday.
People come for seafood, McIntyre notes, so food vendors and rides will be open on Friday afternoon, Sept. 30. In subsequent years, she hopes to have the festival going full force for three whole days.
The festival director has a few more surprises up her sleeve, including the yacht Seafair. McIntyre calls the vessel “an art gallery on the water.” For a fee, visitors can board the luxury craft to peruse its art galleries or eat and drink at its several on-board restaurants.
Look for booths flying flags of the local catch progams, indicating that they are selling local seafood. Barry Nash, North Carolina Sea Grant seafood technology and marketing specialist, is working to bring even more North Carolina seafood to the festival.
He anticipates more vendors will purchase and use seafood from local catch programs — Carteret Catch, Brunswick Catch, Ocracoke Fresh and Outer Banks Catch.
COOKING + EDUCATION
The popular Cooking with the Chefs program is back with something familiar and something new. The events again will be held in the Education Tent that also will house booths for North Carolina Sea Grant, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, local catch groups and other organizations.
They will offer seafood- and coastal-related materials to festivalgoers. Sea Grant is an educational sponsor of that tent.
Nash notes that a 2010 survey of Cooking with the Chefs attendees showed that 72 percent believed the chef demonstrations, coupled with the educational exhibits, helped them learn to identify local seafood at retail markets and to cook restaurant-style meals themselves.
“Cooking with the Chefs merges entertainment and education to tell the public when local seafood is seasonally available, where to purchase it along the coast and how to prepare it at home,” Nash says. “Consumers definitely value the freshness, taste and quality of local seafood and the commercial fishermen who provide it.”
On Saturday, festivalgoers will be able to watch North Carolina chefs cook local and seasonal seafood. Guest chefs hail from Durham, Raleigh and Wilmington, as well as from along the North Carolina coast. All the local catch programs will be represented in the cooking demonstrations.
As with previous years, the chefs will receive a delivery of the seasonal seafood they are using a few days before the event. That way, “we know it’s fresh, we know where it’s coming from,” McIntyre says.
They will cook with ingredients donated by the North Carolina seafood industry. Adding to the local food theme, The Friendly Market in Morehead City and the Southeastern North Carolina Food Systems Council in Wilmington will provide in-season produce for the dishes.
For Sunday, Cooking with the Chefs presents the first chefs’ competition. Four chefs will compete, two at a time, to create the People’s Choice Carolina crab cake using North Carolina crabmeat and a Texas Pete product of their choice. The participants represent Catch of Wilmington, Carteret Community College Culinary Program, 42nd Street Oyster Bar in Raleigh, and Piccata’s Restaurant in Morehead City. The winning chef from each round will get to face off in the final round.
The judges will be William Small from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; Michael O’Donnell, corporate executive chef of Texas Pete; and a guest food writer. In addition, 24 members of the audience will judge the final round. The winning recipe will be publicized as the North Carolina crab cake to rival versions from other states.
For people who want to bring the flavor of the coast home, several area fish dealers will sell fresh seafood outside the Education Tent. Remember to bring a cooler.
“We’re all about North Carolina products,” McIntyre says of the Seafood Festival. Her goal is to “inundate the Morehead City waterfront” with North Carolina’s bounty from the sea.
Entrance to the festival is free. For information about the N.C. Seafood Festival, visit: www.ncseafoodfestival.org.
This article was published in the Autumn 2011 issue of Coastwatch.
For contact information and reprint requests, visit ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/coastwatch/contact/.