Food & Drink

Myrtle Beach chef takes prize in southeastern seafood competition

The Grand Strand’s own Chef Nicholas Huckabee of the Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach recently participated in one of the most prestigious chef contests on the East Coast, the Seafood Challenge of the Southeast Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Supply Show. Huckabee took second place, receiving $500 after battling it out with 60 chefs from North and South Carolina, Georgia and other southeastern states.

“South Carolina’s diversified seafood industry is an incredible economic asset and is booming in popularity,” said Katie Montgomery, director of communications for the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association. “Competitions like this help showcase the talent of chefs across the state and help generate interest in all South Carolina’s culinary scene has to offer.”

Huckabee was recognized for his achievement at the Stars of South Carolina Hospitality Awards on February 16 in Columbia, along with first-place winner Chef Ron Andrews of Brays Island Plantation in Sheldon, in Beaufort County.

Huckabee has been interested in cooking since childhood. He trained for work as a chef at Horry-Georgetown Technical College and by working in various food enterprises in the area.

“I’m a big advocate of local seafood and fisheries,” said Huckabee, a Grand Strand native who is quite used to working with fish.

Chef Tom Mullally, one of Huckabee’s instructors at HGTC, said Huckabee was a star pupil, and the award is “quite an achievement.”

“These competitions are intense,” Mullally said. “A panel of judges samples the dish each person prepares, judging on taste and on appearance. It is not only the chef’s preparation of the main fish dish that is under scrutiny, but also with what and how well he pairs it, and how he plates the final product. In addition, while the chef is cooking, the judges walk around noting the chef’s knife skills, organization and management at the work station.”

Huckabee has worked at the Dunes Club for about six years and rose to the position of executive chef last year.

“I try to maintain a balance of serving longtime favorites with consistently high quality, including the Kidnapper’s Seafood Platter, and creating new dishes that display my skill and use what is available locally seasonally,” he said. “I am constantly changing those specialties.”

Huckabee said he works with beef as well as fish in the restaurant, serving Meyer Farm all-natural steaks, and he starts with buying the best available product. At the seafood market, he said there are several things to look for when picking out the freshest options.

“For a white-fleshed fish, I like to look for a natural translucence,” Huckabee said. “A fresh fish fillet will not have a milky color to it. It should also appear to have a natural moisture layer. Every fish has its own tone of white, so familiarize yourself with the different color tones of specific fish (you like), and it will become easy to spot the freshest fillets. If you have a suspicion about the fish, ask if it has been freshly cut, refreshed or frozen.”

Donna Eddington, general manager of the Dunes Golf and Beach Club, said the club is proud of Huckabee’s accomplishment and for what it means for the area.

“His win is good for the entire Grand Strand because it brings statewide attention to the good things we offer here,” said Eddington, adding that two others on the kitchen staff also were honored at the event. Banquet Chef Henry Mills earned silver in the Mystery Box competition, where a chef must create a meal from mystery ingredients, and Pastry Chef Tina Spaltro earned a Certificate of Excellence.

For those who may not have the opportunity to enjoy his meal in person, Huckabee is sharing his winning recipe, along with side dishes. It is presented in the format he uses, with all ingredients listed first, followed by each item in the order it is prepared.