GULFPORT -- It was mouth-watering aromas rather than melodies wafting on the breeze Saturday as the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra held its 28th annual Barbecue Under the Oaks cooking competition.
At this year's cook-off at Gulfport's Centennial Plaza, cooking champions were Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in the professional division and home cooking team Disizit Bar-B-Q from Long Beach in the amateur division.
The Hard Rock took the top prize with a unique twist on a classic Southern dessert -- jalapeno-bacon bread pudding topped with vanilla ice cream. The dish is the brainchild of Hard Rock Executive Chef B.J. Creswell.
Creswell's bread pudding combines a creative clash of sweet and spicy flavors that kept a line in front of his tent all day.
"We use a different bread that I guarantee nobody else does," he said. "We use hot dog buns. That's the key ingredient. The texture makes it a lot different."
Creswell chose to compete with a dessert as a way to stand out from the pack, he said.
Though the fundraiser features a sampling of barbecue food, the competition is only for side or "lagniappe" dishes.
For the second consecutive year, Mark Johnson, captain of Disizit, grabbed the top amateur prize with his bacon-wrapped smoked oysters.
The dish is made from an "old-school family recipe" passed down to him from his father. Its key ingredient is a marinade composed of butter, lemon juice, herbs and garlic. The oysters are then smoked on top of an applewood plank, Johnson said.
"You just keep basting it, smoking it and basting it," he said.
Disizit has been competing at Barbecue Under the Oaks since it began 28 years ago.
Barbecue Under the Oaks is the primary fundraiser for the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra. Event chair Melanie Clark said it started in a private home with about eight or nine teams. This year's competition featured 30 teams and attracted an estimated 2,000 guests, Clark said.
"Were it not for this fundraiser, we wouldn't keep our doors open," she said. "We literally wouldn't be able to keep our doors open."
The benefit raises an average of about $85,000.
"When it costs roughly $30,000 to put on any concert, you can see why it's important to us," Clark said.