The Hangout Oyster Cook-Off is in its fifth year and going strong with more of what we’ve come to love about this festival. The 2016 version kicks off Friday, Nov. 4, with the Craft Beer Festival at 6 p.m. followed by the Gulf to Table Dinner for those who want to shell out $100 for an intimate experience, with wine pairings and Gulf Coast seafood prepared by acclaimed Alabama chefs and more.
Saturday, Nov. 5, chefs from the southeast will be competing in three categories for the best oyster dishes. This is where everyone dons their game faces and wows the crowd with spectacular oyster dishes beginning at 11 a.m. Enjoy as many oysters as you can afford tasting tickets ($25 for 15 tickets), but be sure to save room for the North American Oyster Showcase where you sample nude oysters from anywhere north of Miami.
With all there is to offer I felt it time to talk to one of the people behind all of this, Martie Duncan. Our Birmingham-area resident party girl spoke at length about this festival showing no signs of slowing down.
Andy MacDonald: What’s so special about our fifth year of the Oyster Cook-Off?
Martie Duncan: I can’t even believe it. We did our first one and now, blink, we are five years in. It’s really amazing how the industry has grown and all the changes we’ve seen. In the first year I had gotten to know Steve Crockett over at Point aux Pins and he had to sneak in some oysters for me to try in a cooler because they were just getting started. Now you can find them in restaurants all over the place and in Whole Foods. And there are lots of others like Navy Cove, Massacre Island and Murder Point that are so popular. Isle of Dauphine got one of the highest ratings in the North American Oyster Showcase.
This event has helped to create so much interest in our oysters, sort of like the music festival, we became known for our oysters and now more and more farmers are getting involved. But I credit Shaul [Zislin] with helping to bring oyster awareness to our coast, not just Apalachicola but our coast.
MacDonald: Down here it’s been great to see more local restaurants serving Isle of Dauphine oysters.
Duncan: I did a 300-mile bike ride this summer for No Kid Hungry and the guys from Point aux Pins, Isle of Dauphine and Navy Cove sent up oysters for a social at the Five Point Public House and Oyster Bar in Birmingham and we raised almost $1,800 because people were so excited to hear about Alabama oysters. They came out like crazy!
MacDonald: Friday night is the Gulf to Table Dinner at The Gulf restaurant. What can we expect from you and these high-caliber chefs?
Duncan: I just jumped on board with this because I wasn’t sure if I would have time, but they asked me to do dessert and said they would make it a No Kid Hungry benefit. I have not decided what to do yet but it will be something homemade with a crust and ice cream on it. That’s what I do know. Some sort of pear tart, apple tart, profiteroles, I don’t know.
So it’s benefiting No Kid Hungry and everyone that comes is going to get a copy of my book “Birmingham’s Best Bites.” It’s not just recipes from favorite Birmingham restaurants, it’s also like a Birmingham tour guide. When you go to Birmingham you can use the book to find your way around to some of your favorite places.
I don’t think it has sold out yet, there may be a few tickets left, so I would encourage everyone to get on it. There are three notable Alabama Chefs: Jim Smith (Executive Chef for the State of Alabama), David Bancroft (2016 James Beard Best Chef South semi-finalist from Acre in Auburn) and our Alabama Gulf Seafood Champion this year, Josh Quick (Odette in Florence).
MacDonald: There’s a Duck Dynasty connection this year, right?
Duncan: Oh yeah, Lisa and Al Robertson are coming to cook with us. We took one of Miss Kay’s recipes and worked it into what will work real well with oysters. We’re doing a classic Angels on Horseback and I’ll make a little horseradish sauce to go with it. Nothing yummier than bacon and oysters and horseradish — are you kidding me, delicious.
MacDonald: Lots of new faces this year. What can we expect in terms of demos?
Duncan: The website has it listed with teams of chefs. I think we have eight demos including the Duck Dynasty demo. Instead of mostly Food Network like we’ve had the last few years, this year they decided they wanted to go with some of the “Top Chef” contestants because Jim Smith is going to be featured on the upcoming season of “Top Chef” for season 14. So is Annie Pettry, who is going to be kicking off the demos. She has her own restaurant, Decca in Louisville, Kentucky. We will have several James Beard finalists, and just a nice mix of different chefs from around the country that bring their own unique seafood perspective.
MacDonald: Friday night is the craft beer festival.
Duncan: Yes, if you aren’t coming to the Gulf to Table dinner the craft beer festival is the place to be. We have, I don’t remember how many kinds of craft beers and a David Bowie tribute band, which is kind of significant because Bowie died this past year.
MacDonald: I know they have Southern Prohibition out of Hattiesburg, Band of Brothers from Tuscaloosa, Avondale comes from Birmingham and the new Big Beach is the latest Gulf Shores brewery. Hopefully there’ll be two more from Mobile next year. That’s just locals. Many more. A lot is going on in the beer world.
Duncan: Food, too. It’s amazing to me there is room to grow, and there is. More are moving away from the big chains and headed to the mom and pops.