With the glistening waters of Des Allemands showing through a window in the kitchen of Spahr’s Seafood restaurant, Chef Ryan Gaudet readied ingredients for his blackened catfish recipe.It appeals in name, but as Gaudet fires up a healthy flame under the skillet to start sautéing ingredients it becomes obvious by the tantalizing scent of fresh herbs and seafood that this dish is going to be a celebration for the taste buds.
The chef is exercising his culinary muscle in anticipation of competing in the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off on Saturday, which is a feature of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board’s (LSPMB) ninth celebration at the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience in the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center.
Gaudet is among 11 chefs chosen for the competition, which he considers an opportunity to promote Spahr’s.
Although this isn’t his first LSPMB competition, he wants to be ready.
“It feels great to be able to promote our restaurant and Louisiana seafood on this high of a level,” Gaudet said. “It’s a little nerve wracking going up with some of the best chefs in the state and they pick top-notch judges. It can yield a lot of positive results for yourself and your restaurant – and Spahr’s wants to do that.”
And there’s more to promote as the restaurant line continues to grow.
A new Spahr’s recently opened in the Galliano Truck Plaza in Lafourche Parish with a new menu. The Houma location has been rebranded as an Alumni Grill to improve competitiveness and appeal to hotel guests, he said. Owners Donald Spahr and Brant Roger, along with Gaudet as executive chef for Spahr’s and operations adviser for the Galliano and Des Allemands locations, are expanding with its signature catfish chips and Bloody Marys spanning from its 1968 beginnings in what was once a gas station.
A native of Thibodaux, Gaudet brings his own recipe for success to the table.
After receiving his degree from Nicholls State University in 2005, he worked in area restaurants and recently celebrated 20 years of experience in the kitchen. At 35, Gaudet also got into managing restaurants at a young age, which promoted his growth with the Spahr’s company.
When he competes with some of Louisiana’s finest chefs this weekend, he brings with him his deep roots in the Cajun culture and its emphasis on quality seafood and cuisine. It’s a body of knowledge that he prides himself on keeping as a continuous learning experience.
“I just try to learn as much as I can,” Gaudet said. “I want to learn from everybody, even my employees.”
The Galliano experience is proof of this with him picking the brain of a 16-year-old employee whose father is a commercial fisherman. The lifestyle doesn’t just educate on seafood, however, it also provides richly textured recipes prepared by fishermen and served for years on trawl boats at work on the Gulf of Mexico.
This weekend, Gaudet and assistant Kellie Frickey, also the kitchen manager in Des Allemands, will put on their best culinary skills. A win would certainly be welcomed, but Gaudet said they’ve already won in the opportunity to get the Spahr’s name out for future growth.
“You really need yourself to come through,” he said of his competition strategy. “Let your food show them who you are.”