By Beth Treffeisen
Chef Kyle McClelland from the Saltie Girl in the Back Bay will be traveling down to New Orleans, along with 12 other chefs from across the country, to compete in the nation’s ultimate seafood cooking-competition.
The 2017 Great American Seafood Cook-off will be held at the Ernest Morial Convention Center on Aug. 5, in front of a live audience and panel of nationally acclaimed judges.
During the competition, each chef will prepare a dish that highlights the use of domestic seafood from their home state while interacting with a live audience, celebrity hosts and the “chef ref.” Each dish will be presented to a panel of nationally known judges, who will score based on presentation, creativity, composition, craftsmanship and flavor.
Started by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board in 2004, the Cook-off promotes domestic, sustainable seafood.
To be eligible to compete in the event, chefs must either hold the current title of King or Queen of Seafood or be appointed by the lieutenant governor of their respective state.
“I’m excited,” said McCelland. “It’s going to be very fun.”
For the competition McClelland along with his sous chef David Daniels of the Met Back Bay plan on making a modern take on a lobster bake. The dish will feature in season ingredients from Massachusetts including razor clams, native corn, potatoes, and lobster.
A uni [sea urchin] juice and puree along with some other tweaks will elevate the traditional New England Clam bake to the next level.
“I don’t want to do anything too complicated,” said McCelland. “I want the products to shine.”
The chefs will have 45 minutes to cook and 15 minutes to plate. To prepare, the chefs have been practicing cooking for the event and getting the timing just right. In addition, they are trying not use the equipment provided because with 12 other states also competing, space will be tight.
“[Daniels] and I have been working together for eight years, and we are pretty in tune with each other,” said McCelland. “It’s a lot easier when you know what you’re doing and plan for it rather than being surprised.”
A New England native, McClelland was born in Dover, N.H. and raised in Sandwich, Cape Cod, where he developed his love of seafood. McClelland attended the French Culinary Institute in New York City where he earned his Grand Diploma.
With 19 years of experience, McClelland has appeared on the Food Network’s “Chopped” and cooked at the James Beard house.
“I’ve always loved the ocean,” said McClelland. “I love to work with seafood because, honestly, not a lot of people do it right.”
In 2016, Chef McClelland team-up with restaurateur Kathy Sidell to open Saltie Girl on Newbury Street in the Back Bay.
“It has really taken off in the city and is doing really well,” said McClelland.
The restaurant uses a lot of hyper-local ingredients from the nearby ocean. McClelland said that one of his favorite things in the restaurant is the raw bar that has rotating oysters from six to eight different types from purveyors from in Boston and around the city.
During the summer other local favorites include the blue fin tuna and of course the lobster roll – which is a big seller, alongside the fried lobster and waffles that has a spicy maple syrup drizzled over it.
As McCelland gets ready to go down to New Orleans this Friday, he looks forward to being able to highlight the beautiful lobster from New England.
“We’ll see it how it goes,” said McCelland. “I’m excited to go down there and show off what Massachusetts has to offer.”
The competition will be aired on WGBH Create six times starting on Thursday Aug. 3, at 8:00 a.m. and at 2:00 p.m., and continuing at the same times on Aug. 17, Aug. 24, Aug. 31 and Sept. 7.