For generations, the seafood business has been a part of cultural landscape of the eastern portion of the Old North State, and for the 27th year, the efforts of the men and women who bring fish and shellfish from the sea to the table will be recognized at the North Carolina Seafood Festival.
“We want to bring awareness about the commercial fishing industry,” said Cheryl Pigott, a member of the festival’s board. “We also want to recognize commercial fishermen in the area.”
As per festival tradition, there will be a blessing of the fleet and a ceremonial wreath tossing into the sea to recognize and honor fishermen, living and dead. According to the CDC, 545 commercial fishermen died while fishing in the United States.
“It’s a really neat reminder of why we do this festival,” Pigott said.
Pigott said the fishermen will be recognized at the festival not only through ceremonies honoring their sacrifice, but also through the product they deliver daily. Starting on Friday and continuing through Sunday, vendors will sell fresh seafood straight off the boat, as well as prepared dishes. The culinary focus of the event, though, will be the Cooking with the Chefs Tent, which can be found on Shepard Street, according to the map provided on the festival’s website.
Throughout the day on Saturday, the tent will feature chefs from restaurants from along the coast demonstrating their trade. Samples of the dishes will be served to the first 50 attendees of each session. According to one of the tent’s organizers, Carolyn Giles, the event will give cooks an opportunity to share seafood that’s a cut above the rest.
“Our seafood in North Carolina is fresher,” said Giles. “We want to educate people on our local seafood.”
Giles said the Department of Agriculture will also give demonstrations on basic seafood skills like opening oysters and fileting fish.
The Chef’s Competition will take place throughout the day on Sunday. Chefs from Wilmington to Chapel Hill are expected to go head to head, preparing dishes based on a secret ingredient, reminiscent of the Iron Chef series. The contestants’ dishes will be judged on taste, originality/creativity, presentation and showmanship. The first round of competition will be judged by a panel of five food experts, including food blogger Amy Brinkley, food critic Andrea Weigl and award winning Chef Andy Hopper (Fire on the Dock Winner, 2012). The second and final round of the competition will be judged by 25 audience members. The winner will receive a plaque and chef’s hat to hang at their establishment until the next festival. This is the first time the competition will include a secret ingredient.
“We’re going to kick things up a notch this year,” Giles said.
On the music and arts side of the festival’s activities, a variety of vendors and performers will be featured throughout the weekend, including country music singer/songwriter Eric Paslay. Paslay, who has written songs for the Eli Young Band and Jake Owens and performed at the Grand Ole Opry, said he brings a little bit of everything to the table with the songs he pens and performs.
“Everyone has a heart and soul,” said Paslay. “I try to make sure everyone’s included in every song I write. It might be a love song or something a little more spiritual. I feel like I fit right in the middle of everything right now.”
Paslay will perform on the Clam Jam Stage at 3:14 p.m., following a set from young up and coming country music singer Rachel Farley. Paslay said he’s excited about his trip to the Carolina Coast, and not only because of the music.
“I love seafood,” said Paslay. “From fried oysters to swordfish steak … Hopefully, we’ll be there in time to get some good food.”
Christopher Thomas is a staff writer for the Jacksonville Daily News.