Updated: Oct 19, 2021
DO NOT READ if you are hungry. The Creole Oyster and Artichoke Stew could be tough to hear about. The Fried Maryland Oyster Tortillas with Avocado Garlic Aioli could induce salivating that threatens your keyboard.
When the Cabana Grass Oyster Shooters arrived in the judges’ inner sanctum, a tiny speaker sparked to life with the sound of Barry Manilow.
Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl.
The 42nd Annual National Oyster Cook-off was back at the St. Mary’s County fairgrounds as part of the the U.S. Oyster Festival on Oct 16.
New Bay Books publisher Sandra Olivetti Martin, a cook of renown who grew up in the legendary Stymie Club, a fine St. Louis restaurant, was one of the judges.
Also judging was Gwyn Novak, chef and founder of No Thyme to Cook, in Solomons, whose books include the best-seller How to Cook for Beginners and, just out, One Pot Supreme: The Complete Cookbook for Skillets, Slow Cookers, Sheet Pans, and More!
John Shields, the author of New Chesapeake Kitchen and other books and founder of Gertrude’s Chesapeake Kitchen, the pioneering farm-to-table restaurant at the Baltimore Museum of Art, was scheduled for another judge’s chair but was unable to make the trip.
Substituting as the third judge was someone who will drink red wine with fish and is known as a connoisseur primarily of tortilla chips and guacamole — me.
The credentials may be thin but they came in handy: A winner both in the Soups and Stews category and as the People’s Choice from audience tasting was Silky Maryland Corn Bisque with Frito Crusted Oysters — submitted by Marty Hyson, of Millersville, the Grand Prize winner in 2019.
Another Marylander, Debbie Reynolds, of Waldorf, captured the 2021 Grand Prize with her Lemon Balsamic Pearls, with titillated the judges in the hors d’Oeuvres, which she also won.
Veronica Callaghan, of Glastonbury, Conn., was the winner in the main dish category with her Beer Battered Oyster Tacos with Ranch Crema and Jalapeño Sauce.
Callaghan had the bonus of seeing her niece, Charlotte McKay, a student at nearby St. Mary’s College.
“I love making tacos,” she said, when asked about her metier. "I love making seafood tacos of any kind."
Nevertheless, when Callaghan heads to Dallas next month for another competition, the requisite skill will be much different than the bivalves of southern Maryland: Szechuan noodles.
Keep an eye open for New Bay Books’ first cookbook — recipes with tales from the global travels of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Andrew Schneider.