Stumbling on to a Southern Delicacy - Shrimp and Grits
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 The Pantry. 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 well 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 crustacean critters congregate!
On Your Mark, Get Set...COOK!
Friday September 14 is $5.00 Sample Night, where you get the opportunity to visit the tents of area vendor restaurants who are doling out their own branded crustacean dishes for your culinary pleasure. Make the rounds, pig out, then vote for your favorite.
Then come back Saturday, September 15 for the Professional Chef Competition, where chefs from restaurants across Georgia vie for the "Best Shrimp and Grits in Georgia" award. Poke around the booths at the festival, taking in the flavor (pun intended) of the competition. These chefs come to Jekyll Island to showcase their skills, so they're at the top of their game.
Judges this year are Henna Bakshi and Kenny Gilbert. 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 snarf down (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 a master chef 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 Festival. For the 2018 shindig, you'll also find a fine recipe for fun:
Don't forget to take in the activities at the Southern Living Pavilion, where they'll be demonstrating the best in Southern culture with presentations and talks covering home, garden, food and travel.
All the above events are FREE, but this year you can try out some paid activities:
The Shrimp and Grits VIP Package (sponsored by Atlanta Magazine this year) 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 Mistletoe Cottage in the Historic District; VIP lanyard and wristband. Plus, what may be the most important prize of all: parking close to the action! Price: Friday OR Sunday: $80.25; Saturday ONLY: $160.50. Prices include tax. Advance online sales end Friday, August 31, so get yours fast. Tickets will also be sold on-site at the VIP Pavilion, sans VIP parking and island entrance fee.
Practice your beer tasting chops on over 50 craft beers at their NEW riverfront location. $20.00 for 10 tastings of craft brews (from a choice of a bunch of brews). And while enjoying your brew, chill to live music on the Riverfront Stage!
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 2018 Wild Georgia Shrimp Festival, or to purchase activity tickets online:
Come And Get It!
The 2018 Wild Georgia Shrimp Festival will be held September 14-16 (a wonderful time to visit Jekyll Island).
If you're arriving 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. The festival has added more buses this year, so shuttle service will run faster. If you or yours are impaired, ADA parking will be available at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Only vehicles with state-approved placards or license plates will be allowed.
By purchasing a VIP pass, you can park a lot closer - across from the Historic Infirmary Building.
Be sure to show up Friday Sept. 14th for $5.00 Sample Night. It's a "yum-tastic" experience!
Come early, eat some shrimp, have fun at the festival. Then take time-out to enjoy the beauty and serenity of Jekyll Island in the early fall!
Hope to see you there.