The Beachcomber July 17, 2015

The Seafood Sings at Jazzy Scallop Festival

By MARIA SCANDALE | Jul 18, 2015
Photo by: Studio 539

When the raw material is awesome, scallops, tuna and mahi mahi hold a flavor that sings. When it’s jazzed up by the shore’s best chefs, high-grade seafood especially stands out. Such was the case with the Viking Village products showcased at the seventh annual Jazzy Scallop & Seafood Festival in Barnegat Light on June 27.

The bounty was fresh off the dock, whose impressive fishing vessels supplied the backdrop to the vast festival tent. “This just came off the boat,” more than one chef pointed out.

The chefs took it from there, in 11 diverse ways. Sometimes showcasing it raw is “well-done” in the preparation realm. Others chose to stir it up with spice, or embellish it in a taco. Tasters made their rounds and then voted for their favorite sample.

Read on for a tour through more details on how the chefs handled presentation in 2015.  (Some went on to thank the fishermen for the bounty. If some of the mini-interviews are shorter, it’s just because the line at their booth was longer at that moment.)

Neptune Market of Harvey Cedars navigated from first-time entrant to first-place winner. Its fresh ahi tuna nachos were impressive over seaweed salad with sriracha, soy reduction, wasabi cream, scallions and sesame seeds. The chili-garlic and wasabi added a bite to the taste that voters went for.

“A lot of people do scallops; we thought we’d switch it up a bit and do tuna,” noted chef Albert Holl.

He chose yellowfin because “it’s a very light-meat tuna – it has a light taste that’s nice. The best way to eat it is raw. This ahi was right off the boat. We just packed it up, took it back, steaked it out, chopped it up, and we’re serving it now.”

And they gave away aluminum travel mugs, imprinted with a smiling King Neptune hoisting a burger.

Mustache Bill’s Diner of Barnegat Light reprised last-year’s first-place entry: fried scallops with Mustache Bill’s own tartar sauce. It won the second-prize entry this year. Fried was a winning method because “they were fried perfectly,” one Surf City attendee said. The diner’s new sauce played up each bite – and Viking Village scallops are of such trademark size that each one is good for three bites.

“We did this last year, too, and we won last year, so we stuck to our guns,” said waitress Krissy Majkutowski. “It’s something we serve at the restaurant, our signature scallops, and we incorporated a new sauce this year. It’s a creole remoulade kind of sauce; it’s lemony and mustardy all at the same time. You get that taste that you just squirted a lemon on your scallops.”

Third in the vote count was Viking Fresh Off the Hook of Viking Village in Barnegat Light with a loaded mahi mahi fish taco on a flour tortilla with chipotle mayo and OTH custom salsa, greens and sour cream.

People were saying they loved the generous amount of fish that was piled in each taco.

“It’s local mahi off the fishing boat,” said the chef, Freddy Madonna. “At Off the Hook we do a nice sauté and grill it. Here we’re not grilling it, but we do it with a little chipotle mayonnaise and sour cream on the fish, which was breaded lightly in a nice spice flour, deep fried, and we put some homemade salsa on top. Then some cheese and a mixture of cabbage and lettuce.

“Easy as that,” he outlined.

*  *  *

More, in the order that the booths appeared from south to west to north around the tent, brings us to Black-Eyed Susans. Tuna Crudo was mouthwatering with bok choy, seabeans, and seaweed salad in a ginger miso sauce.

Christopher Sanchez, chef/co-partner in the Harvey Cedars restaurant, said his preference in tuna for such recipes is big-eye, and he explained why. “It has a deeper color to it; it sometimes has more fat content, and it’s a firmer tuna.”

There were a couple of unique cultivated ingredients to this recipe. First was seabeans. “We cultivate them here; they grow wild in Barnegat Bay,” Sanchez said of the food that looks like a seaweed and is shaped like a green bean. “They have a natural salinity.”

The tuna sample was also garnished with sea salt obtained from local sea water. “We make our own sea salt in-house, and we’re starting to produce it to the point where we can sell it. We get the ocean water right here in Barnegat Light, and we just make salt out of it.”

Black-Eyed Susans won first place two years ago. “But I’m not here to win; I enjoy doing this,” Sanchez said. “I enjoy supporting the fishermen, which I think everybody should; they do the hard work.”

Cuisine on the Green of Little Egg Harbor Township presented a vibrant Calypso Salad.

“It’s a ceviche, a cold seafood salad,” introduced Susan VanDalinda, a graduate just five days earlier from the culinary arts program of Ocean County Vocational Technical School. “This particular one has scallops, calamari and shrimp with mango, pineapple and a sweet chili sauce.”

Chef Instructor Ian Smith planned the school’s entry in the Jazzy Scallop & Seafood Festival, using Chef John Grifo’s recipe. Cuisine on the Green is the restaurant at the Ocean County Golf Course at Atlantis, where the adult student chefs of the OCTVS Culinary Arts Training Center can put their skills directly to work while earning their degree, all under the supervision of professional chefs.

Next to them in the tent was another cooking school entry, Chef Frank-Benowitz, Mercer County Community College Culinary Program of West Windsor. Seared blackened scallop with mango salsa was yet another favorite of many in the crowd.

“I hope you love it,” Benowitz said as he handed out each portion on a spoon.

He called the Viking Village scallops “some of the best in the world.”

“They call them ‘ocean candy,’ and I agree 100 percent.”

The prescribed cooking method is to avoid overcooking: “just a nice sear on both sides with a little spice, and then a little of our mango salsa to accent the sweetness and give a little bit of spice to it,” the chef said.

He added, “Hopefully we do much respect to them. We feel that the fishermen here are doing the Lord’s work, and hopefully when they taste our dish they feel we’re respecting what their hard work brought us.”

Kubel’s & Kubel’s Too featured a grilled scallop with seaweed salad and Asian sauce. Chef Bob Shannon enjoyed working with the star ingredient. “The Barnegat Light scallops are really fresh, and they’re sweet.” It was his first time at Jazzy Scallop, having recently joined Kubel’s. He is a veteran of Chowderfest, on the other end of the Island.

So, a little behind-the-scenes info is here: “Everybody said you’ve got to try to keep it simple and fast.” His other choice for this contest would have been his “scallop shooter,” which blends in chopped avocado, watercress, hot sauce and honey. “But then they told me you’ve got to do 700 of them, and I had to change my mind.”

So, with Chef Chris Rickards on the grill, flavoring it up with a garlic-ginger sauce and seaweed salad “was quick and easy.”

Shannon joining Kubel’s is the latest chapter in 35 years of cooking on LBI. “I opened up Plantation, way back in 1980 when it was the Owl Tree, and I opened up Tuckers Restaurant and was there for 20 years. I went to Element for a year on the mainland, then came back to Long Beach Island.”

The Arlington came from Ship Bottom with nicely plated scallop crudo with citrus brown butter. Slicing the scallop allowed the sample to shine in the right proportion of butter below. A sprinkling of sea salt brought out a sizzle of flavor on top.

“It’s got lime zest and some chive,” added Cortney Sabarese.

Her husband, Arlington co-owner and chef Brian Sabarese, outlined, “It was simple. We wanted to accent the scallop, the sweetness of the scallops.”

Crudo means “raw” in Italian. “You taste the true scallop by not cooking it,” Brian Sabarese pointed out. “The worst thing in the world is overcooked scallops. So we just wanted to make it real simple and fresh.

“We just picked these up today; they just came off the boat. You can’t beat them.”

Cassidy’s Fish Market & Sushi Avenue/Wakefern collaborated product and talent to present a sushi assortment.

“They are actually made by the guys at the (Manahawkin) ShopRite sushi station; they buy seafood from Viking Village. We sold them seafood in exchange for them giving us back the finished product,” explained Dylan Larson of Cassidy’s, located at the commercial dock, facing Bayview Avenue at 18th Street in Barnegat Light.

The tuna sushi was fresh, locally bought, and professionally prepared. Patrons also had a choice of salmon rolls, California rolls, Philadelphia rolls – 10 types in all were snapped up at this popular station.

“It’s nice, the relationship that Viking Village has with the guys over at ShopRite. They do a nice job,” Larson remarked.

The Dutchman’s Brauhaus, set up in the northwest corner of the festival tent, was the place to find a tasty slider sandwich hot off the grill. Many tasters came back for more than one mahi mahi slider sandwich with cajun spice, lettuce and Jersey tomatoes.

Manning the grill was the executive chef/manager of the landmark restaurant on Cedar Bonnet Island, David Schmid.

“It’s our fish sandwich that we have at the Quelle,” he said, referring to the outdoor bar and grill that has been an LBI Causeway hotspot since 1995. “It’s a mahi fish sandwich lightly spiced with Cajun spice.”

Of course, the mahi was caught by the Viking Village fleet. Using local Jersey tomatoes was another plus.

“Everything is from here – that’s part of the whole thing,” Schmid summed up of the festival.

Speaking of local, ReClam the Bay brought bags of clams grown in the area and opened them on the spot to feature fresh raw clams on the half-shell.

“This is the time of year that clams are really sweet,” instructed Rick Bushnell, president of the volunteer-run nonprofit organization.

ReClam the Bay attends these functions to educate the public on the importance of getting involved to promote a clean environment. The organization also teams with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Ocean County to grow and maintain millions of baby clams and oysters.

“I think clams are at their best now. All of them are very plump because they are just about ready to spawn, and they have been feeding probably for the past three or four weeks really well,” Bushnell said. “This is the time of year that certain algae is available. They catch this growth rise just before they’re ready to spawn, and that’s why I think they’re so sweet.”

The identification tag on the mesh bag proved the clams were harvested in Great Bay. These were cherrystones, which are a little larger than the littlenecks and middlenecks that ReClam usually brings for sampling.

“Actually, a lot of people don’t like clams that are this large; they think they’re going to be too chewy and too rubbery, and they’re not at all,” Bushnell said. “We brought cherrystones because there is a real clam shortage this year. Last year was not a good growing year, and we know this through ReClam the Bay and just about all the commercial guys we talk to.

“We’re here supporting what they do at Jazzy Scallop, which is really all about sustainable fisheries, and shellfish are a sustainable fishery because they can be replenished,” Bushnell said.

There’s Always
Next Year

For the price of a $30 admission, it was an amazing amount of highest-quality seafood that a customer could not have gotten under any one roof.

Blended in the background was the upbeat jazz of the Jimmy Merchant & Friends band, comprised of Merchant on sax, Jonathan McElroy on bass, Michael Winnicki on drums and Adam Shaber on guitar.

The event doubles as a fundraiser through the Larson-Puskas Fisheries Education Partnership. Five $1,000 scholarships were awarded to local high school students. Additionally, donations were made to ReClam the Bay, and to the Barnegat Light Beach Patrol toward a lifesaving boat.

Dozens of businesses and organizations donated to make the event.

Watch the website for the date of Jazzy Scallop next year. And while you’re there, click on the links that highlight the boats that bring in the bounty.

The site explains more about the sustainable fishing practices that are employed to manage the fishery and make sure the stocks are secure for the next season and the next generation.

(Photo by: Studio 539)
(Photo by: Studio 539)
(Photo by: Studio 539)
(Photo by: Studio 539)
(Photo by: Studio 539)
(Photo by: Studio 539)
(Photo by: Studio 539)
(Photo by: Studio 539)
(Photo by: Studio 539)
(Photo by: Studio 539)
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