A Gilbert chef is heading to New Orleans this week to compete in the 18th annual Great American Seafood Cook-off in the hopes of being crowned the King of American Seafood.
Nick Farrer, a salesman and culinary consultant at Isabel’s Amor, will compete with counterparts in a competition hosted by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board in conjunction with the Louisiana Restaurant Association Showcase.
The chefs, each representing their home state, will showcase their seafood skills by cooking in front of a live audience and a panel of nationally acclaimed judges. They’ll also interact with celebrity hosts including: Chef Cory Bahr, “Food Network Star” finalist, Food Network “Chopped” champion and a former King of Louisiana Seafood; KLFY TV10’s Gerald Gruenig; and “chef ref” Chef Keith Frentz, another former King of Louisiana Seafood.
If Farrer reigns victorious, he will be the first chef from Arizona to win The Great American Seafood Cook-Off.
“I’m just going to go have fun and see what happens,” said the Chicago-native.
Each chef will have an hour to prepare a dish highlighting the use of domestic seafood, then present their concoction to a panel of judges who score based on presentation, creativity, composition, craftsmanship and flavor.
Farrer and his sous-chef, Robert Buturla, hope to wow the judges with a Rocky Point-inspired dish involving mahi-mahi (also known as dorado or dolphinfish) and shrimp.
“I had a vision quickly when they told us what we needed to do,” Farrer said. “We immediately practiced as soon as we got the clearance to go. I knew that I wanted to do something that comes from the warm water of the California-Mexico area.
“We started playing with the flavor profiles that we liked, so roasted poblanos, jalapenos, onions, mangos. It took about 30 minutes and we had the recipe,” he added.
Isabel’s Armor, at 1490 E. Williams Field Road, bills itself as “a comfortable, welcoming and polished Mexican eatery where we serve made-from-scratch dishes alongside a craft cocktail list.”
The restaurant is named after Nana Isabel, the matriarch of the Vasquez family whose recipes have fed three generations plus countless neighbors and friends.
“Her dishes inspired the opening of the Vasquez’s first restaurant, South Phoenix’s Poncho’s in 1972, and the multi-location, family-friendly and fast-casual Someburros,” it says on its website, calling her recipes “the centerpoint of every celebration and happy occasion.”
Although one hour may seem like very little time to create a show-stopping dish, Buturla said that it’s actually plenty for Farrer.
“We can do this blindfolded,” Farrer said.
The 45-year-old chef is no stranger to competition. As a former professional baseball player with more than 20 years of corporate America sales experience under his belt, Farrer is “ready to compete fiercely” and sell his dish to the judges.
But what’s really giving Farrer an advantage against the clock and the other chefs is his experience on the Food Network.
While Farrer is a salesman and not technically a chef, his experience as a culinary consultant for Isabel’s Amor since the inception of its menu in 2013 has landed him three appearances on Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games,” two of which he won under the watchful eye of famed chef Guy Fieri.
“In ‘Guy’s Grocery Games,’ you have no idea what you’re doing, there’s 100 cameras, 1,000 lights and you just stand there in front of the biggest star to have ever existed on the Food Network and he goes, ‘Make me something that you would make if people came over for a football game,” Farrer explained.
He added that it’s just not one dish Fieri asks of contests, but rather “five dishes and do it for under $25 and you have this single bag to shop in.”
Farrer anticipates The Great American Seafood Cook-Off to be easier than “Guy’s Grocery Games” because the chefs won’t be running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Rather than having half an hour to make his meal, Farrer has twice the amount of time, was able to practice beforehand, can mail in all of his ingredients and has much more equipment available.
Since winning and being invited to so many cooking competitions, Farrer’s friends and family have continuously been asking him when he’s cooking full-time.
His answer is that he won’t. At least, for now.
“Eventually, I think there may be a point where I have to make a decision,” Farrer said.
Farrer’s brand of hot sauce, “Southside Sauces,” and his YouTube channel, “The South Chicago Chef,” fulfill his love for cooking.
His YouTube videos teach viewers how to cook or inform them of the best Arizona tacos with honest reviews, episodes of which he describes as a “direct rip-off” of Dave Portnoy’s Barstool pizza reviews.
His true passion project on the channel is his new show, “The Family Table,” where he cooks with families and unlocks their food traditions and family recipes for the world to see.
“It’s about reconnecting families around the dinner table and cooking the recipes that got families where they are today,” Farrer explained. “What’s happening today is that we’re all on the run, we have Uber Eats, DoorDash, Grubhub, drive-thrus, specific parking spots to pull in, get your food and go on your way.
“We stop sitting at the table and asking, ‘how was your day?’ I’m trying to reignite that. I want to know what food means to you and your family, and I want to come cook it with you.”
Regardless of whether or not Farrer is crowned the next King of American Seafood, one thing is for certain — like he says at the end of his YouTube videos, Farrer will “keep on cooking.”
To keep up with Farrer’s cooking, follow him on Instagram (@southchicagochef). Information on Isabel’s armor: isabelsarmor.com.