5 Chefs Who Are Changing the Face of Gulf Seafood (and Their Amazing Recipes)
Chris Shepherd, Underbelly, Houston, Texas
Since opening Underbelly in 2012, Chris Shepherd has become one of the biggest advocates, not only for seafood diversity along the Gulf, but a multicultural approach to its cuisine. The Nebraska-born, Oklahoma-raised chef fell in love with his new hometown after attending culinary school in Houston. “It was all the diversity that really kept me here,” says Shepherd. “It was the Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, El Salvadoran, and all those flavors that I truly love and care about.”
Recently, the James Beard Award winner launched an ambitious five-year project called One Fifth, which he’s opened in partnership with Houston Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Its first iteration is a sustainable steakhouse concept with an extensive raw bar component.
Cha Ca Style Snapper, Underbelly
With dishes like Korean braised goat and dumplings and Indian roasted chicken, Shepherd strives to tell the “story of Houston food.” Boasting the third largest Vietnamese population in the U.S., Shepard was particularly excited about this dill- and turmeric-laden Northern Vietnamese dish, which has become a menu mainstay.
Recipe: Cha Ca Style Snapper
PJ Stoops, Houston, TX
Chef PJ Stoops’ path to chefdom was a circuitous one. After majoring in philosophy at the University of Texas, Stoops bounced around restaurant jobs in Austin, before launching a seafood distribution company out the back of his car. Well before “bycatch” became a buzzword, Stoops was peddling Almaco jacks and Pink Porgies to some of Texas’s best restaurants. In 2015, he redirected his culinary energies into the kitchen, opening Foreign Correspondents, a Northern Thai restaurant, which he launched with his wife Apple.
Despite national recognition in Eater and Bon Appetit, the critical darling decided to shutter in December. But Stoops has already launched a new venture, a Thai-inspired pop-up series called Sap Sap, which he vows to turn into a brick and mortar in the near future.
Fried Gulf Shrimp Laap, Foreign Correspondents
The national dish of Laos has innumerable spellings (laap, larp, laab, larb), but in essence is a minced meat (raw or cooked) salad mixed with assorted herbs and vegetables. At Foreign Correspondents, Stoops worked closely with local Cambodian farmers, Sameth and Lee Nget, to complement different types of Gulf seafood with harder-to-find produce such as water celery and holy basil.
Recipe: Fried Gulf Shrimp Laap
Nina Compton, Compere Lapin, New Orleans, LA
“I was nervous about entering this landscape of very fixed institutions,” says Nina Compton regarding her move from Florida to New Orleans in 2015. Considering the overwhelming success of the Top Chef star’s Caribbean-Italian concept, Compere Lapin, it’s obvious that her hesitation was unwarranted. A big part of that success? Giving New Orleanians a glimpse into its early culinary roots, with Caribbean specialties such as curried goat and this seafood pepper pot. “I ate out a lot when I first moved here and everything was quite heavy,” says Compton. “My goal was really to showcase the best local products from the Gulf—all the shrimp, drum, and crab—and not mask it behind a bunch of heavy cream and butter.”
Caribbean Seafood Pepper Pot, Compere Lapin
This traditional stew found in Jamaica, Guyana, and Compton’s native St. Lucia has found a permanent home on the chef’s menu. Like New Orleans gumbo, it invites interpretation, so feel free to swap in shrimp, catfish, or even chicken.
Recipe: Caribbean Seafood Pepper Pot
Bill Briand, Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina, Orange Beach, AL
After spending nearly two decades with some of New Orleans’ biggest names (Emeril Lagasse, Donald Link), Bill Briand broke off to open the dual-concept space, Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina, with good friend, Johnny Fisher. Working closely with the best farmers and fishermen in the area, he’s earned a reputation for excellence that has been rewarded with back-to-back James Beard nominations.
Murder Point Oysters with Apple Ginger Relish, Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina
Johnny Fisher and chef Bill Briand have been two of the most vocal proponents of reef-specific oysters along the Gulf. The duo behind Fisher’s at Orange Beach admit that the boutique bivalve trend was initially slow to take at their Alabama restaurant, but by educating their staff and customer base, they’ve created a monster. Now they can barely keep in stock the Murder Point and Point Aux Pins they’ve championed for so long. Briand encourages all his diners to sample at least one oyster garnish-free in order to get an unadulterated window into their merroir. But for the rest, he’s created this tangy-spicy mignonette that perfectly complements their buttery flavor profile.
Grilled Pompano with Salsa Verde, Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina
Like a growing number of chefs, Briand is a firm believer in the fin-to-tail philosophy. Not only does it cut down on food waste, it helps to showcase underrated cuts such as collars and tails. At Fisher’s Upstairs, the fine dining side of his two-part restaurant, you can often find whole grilled preparations like this pompano covered with marinated cherry tomatoes and fresh salsa verde.
Recipe: Grilled Pompano with Salsa Verde
Ryan Prewitt, Pêche, New Orleans, LA
Before joining Donald Link, Ryan Prewitt cut his teeth working for Alicia Jennish at Le Petite Robert in San Francisco. But despite his high-profile beginnings on the West Coast, the Big Easy is where Prewitt’s found his culinary bearings. Under the guidance of Link, the chef earned a James Beard Award for “Best Chef, South” in 2014 and has helped elevate Pêche to one of the nation’s premier seafood destinations.
Crab Claws with Chili Vinegar and Mint, Pêche
When Ryan Prewitt opened Pêche with partner Donald Link in 2013, he says it was with one thing in mind: the advancement of Gulf seafood. “We really wanted to shine a light on the quality and diversity we found down here,” says Prewitt. “For us, it’s more about what’s caught that day, and less about a lot of weighted, masking preparations.” For Prewitt, that ethos shows in his extensive raw bar menu, with pristinely sourced shrimp, oysters, and crab, like these cracked claws drizzled in an Asian-inflected vinaigrette.
Crab Capellini, Pêche
Oh, crab butter, where have you been all our lives? A mixture of crab fat and roe, white wine, and jalapeno and shallots that have been simmered in butter, this intoxicating amalgam slicks every strand of spaghetti in Ryan Prewitt’s showstopper of a dish. The chef, who’s eaten his fair share of Pacific shellfish from his time in San Francisco, says “Gulf seafood is second to none.” And after trying this menu staple at Pêche, it’s hard to disagree.
Recipe: Crab Capellini
Shrimp Toast, Pêche
“The restaurant scene [in New Orleans] has just exploded in the past 10 years,” says Pêche chef Ryan Prewitt. “The number and diversity of those restaurants is so dramatically different too. These are restaurants that are cooking on a national level in ways that aren’t specifically tied to the historical New Orleans culinary tradition.” Untethered by that iconic canon, Prewitt’s approach to seafood often takes on international touches, like this take on the Chinese dim sum classic.
Recipe: Shrimp Toast