Nick Huckabee sees the honor of competing in the 13th annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off as another way to give Grand Strand chefs more recognition for their role in this area’s culinary, tourism and hospitality industries.
The executive chef from The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, Huckabee’s one of several Southeasterners competing Saturday in New Orleans and coordinated by the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board (www.greatamericanseafoodcookoff.com). He’s among chefs from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, and others from Alaska, Massachusetts, Oregon, Texas and Utah round out the roster. A panel of six national judges will score their dishes – all touting only domestic catches – in categories of presentation, creativity, composition, craftsmanship and flavor.
“To win,” said Huckabee, who took the crown for the 2016 S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association’s Seafood Challenge and qualified for the event this weekend, “would be a higher personal accomplishment, but also to show there there is great seafood and some great chefs from Myrtle Beach.”
Aware of the attention he said Charleston receives and deserves, Huckabee, a Myrtle Beach native who lives in Little River, said he aims to give his fellow local chefs “a little bump” in awareness to remind everyone of the great fare they prepare, two hours north, “right up the street” here.
Speaking about such bigger scale competitions, Huckabee said he apprenticed in 2011 for a chef in the Great American Seafood Cook-Off. He said he will enter his “Chef’s Choice” and “not change anything.”
Looking back since his immersion in cooking as a child, Huckabee said he didn’t perfect a dish to call a signature of his own until he reached his 30s. He stressed the results from “practice and repetition” in developing culinary talent, and by taking part in competitions and bringing home judges’ feedback he values so highly, that all has added up to taking his own art “to a higher level.”
Cook-offs have come “second nature” for Huckabee, and with critiques from judges, he said the whole experience serves “to push yourself to what you can possibly be and see where it can take you.” He also was runner-up in the 2015 S.C. Seafood Challenge.
Huckabee said that in his first professional cooking position at age 21, “a great chef and mentor” for whom he worked also instilled an extra sense that goes into food preparation.
“He made me realize,” Huckabee said, “that you have to eat with your eyes before you taste with your mouth, and they both have to coincide.”
No one, for-sure ingredient reigns in Huckabee’s life, he said, because there are “too many great combinations.” Through a variety, he said, “every dish you create has his own flavor profile.”
As for food shows on television, Huckabee said Food Network’s “original ‘Iron Chef,’ when it first came out, is the only one I have ever watched.”
Asked what makes for an ideal setting or time of day in which to cook, Huckabee called himself “an afternoon-evening type of chef,” who’s “not much into breakfast.”
A father who treasures leisure time with his daughter, Huckabee said they “eat very good at home,” with “fresh salads, vegetables and seafood” as staples.
Huckabee also said by lending his craft in annual fundraisers such as “Taste of the Town” for St. Andrew Catholic School in Myrtle Beach, and the American Culinary Federation Myrtle Beach Chapter’s “Souper Supper,” he loves to get out and talk with people, “to have a connection” to make their dining experiences only “more memorable and unique.”
“They need to know whom they can’t see in the kitchen,” he said. “Born and raised in this community, I like to be a part of these events.”
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 843-444-1764.