You know her from “Martie Knows Parties,” “Food Network Star” and countless other television appearances, recipes and videos on myrecipes.com and, of course, our annual Hangout Oyster Cook-Off. The Birmingham party girl visits our area enough she calls Fairhope her second home.
Be sure and visit Martie Duncan at the demo stage, where she will be making an out-of-this-world oyster stew. Signed copies of her “Birmingham Bites” cookbook are available at Page & Palette. Proceeds from sales of the book go to the Birmingham Public Library, where Martie rode her bike countless days as a kid.
Lagniappe caught up with Duncan last week and listened to her rattle about this weekend’s festivities. The woman is full of energy, and she needs it. She’s about as busy as it gets on a normal day, but this event has her at full throttle and you can hear the excitement in her voice.
Andy MacDonald: Hello, Martie Duncan! Anything new for the Oyster Cook-Off this year?
Martie Duncan: Take, for example, this North American Oyster Showcase thing. This is the first time there has ever been a convening of oyster associations, growers, farmers, restaurateurs, chefs, who have come together to grade oysters like they do wine. The reality is oysters and other things that grow in the sea do have a meroir very similar to the way the wine has a terroir, where the grapes are grown and where the wine is made and even stored and what it’s stored in and how it takes on the flavor components of all of that. Well, oysters do the same thing.
MacDonald: Admittedly, that’s the part of this event I am excited about the most.
Duncan: The exciting thing for us is that we are the first one to do it. I think that really solidifies our Hangout Oyster Cook-Off as the premier oyster event in the whole country. There are a lot of oyster events but none that are really looking at the oyster industry in its entirety and helping to bring not just an education to the guests . . . but also give some consistency to the rating of oysters in terms of salinity and texture and size.
When you go to buy oysters you’re sort of at a loss because they are locked up in a shell. This rating system will actually help the consumer down the road to know what to look for, what to ask for. They will know what they favor. And by the way, this year will be the first year where we have served anything other than a Gulf oyster.
MacDonald: The demos are probably the next most exciting thing to me.
Duncan: Think about it. We’ve got an Australian, a Hawaiian and an Iron Chef competitor in Anne Burrell. We’ve got Michele (Ragussis), who is the leading expert on seafood in New England. We have the Alabama Governor’s Mansion executive chef, we got a Top Chef contestant with Wesley True and the two James Beard Award winners for Best Chef South for the last two years and some up-and-comings. “Next Food Network Stars” are there. Irv Miller has a new book out. We have quite a collection of varied and different chefs doing all kinds of things. And they are doing it in a way that is accessible to the home cook.
By the way, there will be tastings at all these demos.
MacDonald: For first-timers coming to the Hangout Oyster Cook-Off, what is the recommended way to navigate through all that is going on? There is so much to do I would hate to miss anything.
Duncan: It is going to be bigger, but it won’t matter. If you just wander around, you will run into some amazing things. Even in the competitors, you are going to find people making crazy combinations, things you never thought of being done with an oyster. I haven’t seen what the competitors are doing this year but it won’t matter if you even come to a demo, you’re going to get something great.
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