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State's hottest chefs will square off in Gulfport at seafood cookoff

TAMMY SMITH/SUN HERALD 
 Heath Johnson of Oxford prepares a dish for the Mississippi Seafood Cookoff in Biloxi in 2011. The 7th Seafood Cookoff will blend with food, drink and entertainment to become the Mississippi Seafood Experience May 26 in Gulfport.
TAMMY SMITH/SUN HERALD Heath Johnson of Oxford prepares a dish for the Mississippi Seafood Cookoff in Biloxi in 2011. The 7th Seafood Cookoff will blend with food, drink and entertainment to become the Mississippi Seafood Experience May 26 in Gulfport.

A dash more food and fun will turn the seventh annual Mississippi Seafood Cookoff into Mississippi Seafood Experience, a new culinary festival in downtown Gulfport.

The May 26 event, a kick-off of Memorial Day weekend, will see 12 of the top chefs in Mississippi -- including several from the Coast -- turn Gulf seafood into delectable dishes.

Eat Y'all and other organizers hope to expand this new festival into a multi-day celebration of Mississippi's seafood and culinary culture.

The Seafood Cookoff begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Climb CDC Warehouse, 1316 30th Ave. in Gulfport.

The chefs will begin cooking at about 10-minute intervals. A panel of culinary professionals from across the Southeast will judge the dishes. The winning chef will compete nationally at the Great American Seafood Cook­off in New Orleans -- and for the first time this year, the World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Ala.

Two chefs who are previous winners will emcee the cookoff. Several other activities are part of the evening's festivities:

-- An upscale shrimp boil and a spread of gourmet side dishes and desserts from South Mississippi's top restaurants and chefs

-- A welcome cocktail and local craft-beer tastings, courtesy of Chandeleur Island Brewing Company and Rex Distributing Co. A cash bar also will be available.

-- Live entertainment

-- Food auction. Each competitor will prepare one extra plate that will go up for bid, with proceeds to benefit Climb CDC.

Eat Y'all is hosting the Mississippi Seafood Experience. The Gulfport-based culinary-promotion company has teamed up with the cookoff sponsors, the state Department of Marine Resources and Mississippi Seafood Marketing.

Dress for the event is "fancy casual." Tickets must be purchased in advance and are $29 per person or $50 for a couple.

A limited number of VIP tables will be available for tables of eight in a section near the judging stage. Table service for food and beer tastings is included for VIPs.

"We are honored to work with the Department of Marine Resources and our other local partners," said Andy Chapman, founder and president of Eat Y'all and Eat MS Coast, "to bring many of our state's best chefs to this extraordinary Mississippi Coast venue and to add new culinary experiences alongside this rich seafood cookoff tradition. Chapman's companies tell the story of Southern food, which he said is an integral part of the state's culture.

Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said, "The mission of Climb CDC, combined with a competition featuring the best seafood in the world, will make for a culinary event not to be missed."

Tickets are available online or by calling (601) ­852­-3463.

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