LEONARDTOWN, MD—Three authors, who on this day also were judges, presided over a stunning conclusion to the 44th U.S. National Oyster Cook-Off, held Oct. 21 at the St. Mary's County Fairgrounds.
In a competition featuring experts who have competed around the country, a sixth-grader from Lutherville, MD wowed the judges, the tasting public and a cheering crowd with an appetizer dish enabling him to sweep the biggest prizes of the day.
What could John Davis, 12, have whipped up that was so doggone good? It was called Maryland Oysters with Fire Roasted Corn, Leeks, Tomatoes and Basil with Hot Honey Drizzle.
And amid a dizzying avalanche of complicated recipes and spices that can assault the unassuming oyster, judges enjoyed the simple bread and butter that young John served with his dish.
"It's his passion," Sandy Macon, cheering in the grandstand infield, said of her grandson John's cooking.
He'd better use a big pot at home: John, a student at Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Towson, is the eldest of eight children.
The judges found John's prize-winning dish (center left) and its presentation a delight.
"Such a clever way of serving his oyster dish in those cute little iron skillets," said judge Sandra Olivetti Martin, who grew up in a legendary St. Louis restaurant.
"The base, a corn salsa, was delicious with just the right amount of tang," she added. "And that bread and butter was welcomed."
Martin is the founder of New Bay Books and formerly the publisher of Bay Weekly. newspaper, She also is the author of the recently released Fire at the Stymie Club: Stories from the Mississippi River to Chesapeake Bay — a memoir along with a compilation of many of her prize-winning newspaper stories over the years.
Martin, in sunglasses below, was joined in the judges' tasting chamber and later on stage by fellow judges Gwyn Novak and John Shields.
Novak, a graduate of the Baltimore International Culinary College, is a chef and the operator of No Thyme to Cook, which offers cooking instruction and related classes on the Solomons, MD waterfront.
Shields is the owner of Gertrude's Chesapeake Kitchen at the Baltimore Museum of Art and a prolific author of cookbooks, including Chesapeake Bay Cooking, The Chesapeake Bay Crab Cookbook and The Chesapeake Bay Cookbook: Rediscovering the Pleasures of a Great Regional Cuisine.
Besides awarding John Davis prizes that amounted to well over $1,000, the judges-authors may have propelled the boy toward a lifelong quest. Asked what he planned to be when he grows up, Davis, still clutching his Grand Prize Plaque, replied: "Probably a chef."