We had us a shrimp boil, ... We fed a bunch of kids, too." - Patricia Green
Several years ago, we arrived on Jekyll Island late one damp Saturday afternoon. The rain had blown out by the time we drove to the Millionaire's Village to get a "Big Cookie" at Club Cafe. Imagine our delight when we discovered we'd lucked into the Amateur Chef Competition part of Jekyll Island's annual Wild Georgia Shrimp and Grits Festival.
Sometimes Lady Luck smiles and you count your blessings.
In no time we were nostril-deep in the rich scent of cooking shrimp. Delectable pink crustaceans bubbling merrily at a slow boil, or lying prettily on beds of crisp, green lettuce. Or combined in savory delights with other mysterious ingredients. It was a shrimp-lovers paradise.
Needless to say, we ate good that evening..
Well, There's Shrimp Gumbo, Grilled Shrimp, Shrimp and Grits...All of Bubba Gump's Favorites!
The Jekyll Island Wild Georgia Shrimp (and Grits) Festival is just that - a celebration of Georgia shrimp and the shrimping industry. No farm-bred critters here. All these babies are caught off the Georgia coast, in their wild state. The marsh ecosystem and the action of the tides work together to provide the nutrition needed to grow the tastiest of shrimp.
I don't pretend to understand how it works - I just enjoy the results! There's no substitute for home-grown shrimp, fresh from the sea.
Besides being perfect for a good meal, shrimp provide work for Georgia families, some of whom have shrimped Georgia's coastal waters for generations. The knowledge these men and women have gleaned from hands-on experience and from their elder kin is invaluable. These folks know where the critters congregate!
They're ALL Good!
So we poked around the booths at the Wild Georgia Shrimp and Grits festival, taking in the flavor (pun intended) of the competition. Both amateur and professional chefs came to Jekyll Island to showcase their skills and have their offerings judged in two rounds of competition.
Round One is judged by a panel of Professional Judges. Chefs are allowed 2 hours to cook their shrimp-based dishes. Amateur chefs must serve 2 meal-size portions to the judges, and professional chefs must provide three portions.
Judging is done on a points system in four categories: presentation and general impression; creativity; correct preparation and sanitation; and flavor, taste, texture and whether the shrimp are cooked done.
In Round Two, contestants must serve 25 sample portions to a group of folks sitting on a Consumer's Choice Panel. This round is judged only on taste.
Regular folks like us can sign up for the Consumer's Choice panel, and pig out on (I mean, daintily sample) offerings from all the chefs in the competition.
Since this is a shrimp and GRITS festival, all the dishes must be made with grits. I remember talking with the master chef of a team from New York and jokingly asked, "Do y'all even know what grits are?"
Without missing a beat, he answered, "Hadn't a clue until this morning."
Shrimp Ain't All They Got!
Of course, anytime 2 Southerners get together is an excuse for a party, so it's no wonder that there's more than Shrimp and Grits at the Shrimp and Grits Festival. For the 2016 festival, you'll also find a fine recipe for fun:
Over a 100 Arts and Crafts vendors; a pinch of family fun activities for the kids at the United Way Kids Fun Zone, with face painting, bouncy houses, and more; throw in a dollop of shrimp eating contests; and sprinkle in various live musical acts on two stages. Simmer under the Jekyll Island sun, and presto - great family fun for everyone. And it's all "G" rated.
All the above events are FREE, but this year you can try out some paid activities:
The Shrimp and Grits VIP Package gets you: exclusive access to the VIP tent at the Indian Mound Cottage on the main lawn; daily catered meals and snacks; unlimited beverages at the open bar (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic); access to Rockefeller's cottage, Indian Mound, during daily tour; VIP lanyard and wristband. Plus, what may be the most important prize of all: parking close to the action! Price: tickets limited to 100 folks per day. Friday OR Sunday: $79.50; Saturday ONLY: $159.00; three day pass: $291.50. Prices include tax. Advance online sales end Friday, Sept. 2 at 5:00 pm, so get yours fast.
The DuBignon Lawn Lounge is new for 2016. Includes a perfect spot to experience the festival, on the lawn of the DuBignon Cottage. Includes exclusive, on-site parking; drink tickets (4 per day); and a daily tour just for VIP ticket holders. Tickets Friday OR Sunday: $ 31.80; Saturday: $63.60; or splurge on the 3 day weekend package: $116.60. Includes tax.
Riverfront Lawn Lounge - also new this year, this venue is right by the Jekyll River, with a perfect view of the Riverfront Stage. Comes with on-site parking; drink tickets (4 per day); lawn games. Tickets: Friday OR Sunday: $31.80; Saturday: $63.60; 3 day weekend: $116.60. Tax included.
Craft Brew Fest - practice your beer tasting chops on over 50 craft beers in the air-conditioned comfort of the Morgan Center. $20.00 for 10 tastings of craft brews (from a choice of 16 brews).
You can find out more information on the above by contacting the Jekyll Island Visitor's Center at 912-635-3636.
For more detailed info on the 2016 Wild Georgia Shrimp Festival, or to purchase activity tickets online:
INFO and TICKETS
Come And Get It!
The 2016 Wild Georgia Shrimp Festival will be held September 16-18 (a wonderful time to visit Jekyll Island).
If you're coming from off-island, park at the Jekyll Island Airport, where families can hop a shuttle to the festival site and back. Staying at an island hotel? Most run shuttles directly to the Festival.
By purchasing a VIP pass, you can park a lot closer - across from the Historic Infirmary Building.
Be sure to show up Friday Sept. 16th for $5.00 Sample Night. Then head over to the Convention Center for the Southern Living Biscuits & Jam Concert featuring David Nail, beginning at 7:00. General admission tickets are $26.50, plus 6% sales tax. He's country, boys and girls. Get a heads-up on his music with his new album "Fighter".
Got a VIP ticket? You can go backstage and meet with David Nail in person! Just one of the percs for VIP ticket holders.
Come early, eat some shrimp, have fun at the festival. Then take time-out to enjoy the peace and beauty of Jekyll Island in the early fall!
Hope to see you there.