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Mississippi Chefs Cook Grits, Gumbo and Gator at London Summer Olympics

By Rhonda Miller | Published 27 Jul 2012 01:18am | comments
Executive Chef Chris Poplin at the IP Casino in Biloxi prepares the dish he's cooking at the Summer Olympics in London - Cajun barbecue shrimp over grits with goat chess, chives and Cajun smoked sausage.

The Summer Olympics begin in London today and athletes will be dazzling crowds with skills they’ve been practicing for years. They’re not the only ones. MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports two Mississippi chefs are going for the gold with grits, gator and gumbo.

The two Mississippi chefs at the London Olympics will not be cooking the typical southern foods praised in a song by Jack Williams.

"I love my collard greens, some black-eyed peas. I want sweet potatoes on the side. Yes, okra gets my vote, if it slides down my throat and, of course, I want my chicken fried."

There’s no okra on the cutting board for Gulfport chef Calvin Coleman. He’s chopping what he describes as the holy trinity of Cajun cooking - bell peppers, onions and celery. It’s for the gumbo recipe he’s cooking at the Olympics.

"Now one thing unique about our gumbo, and some will argue this makes it not gumbo, is we do not use okra in our gumbo. Creole cooking uses the okra, and of course, okra in African does mean gumbo."

Coleman is sticking to the classic Cajun gumbo he cooks for his business, Naomi’s Catering, which he took over from his mother. Coleman says a lot of people mistakenly think Cajun and Creole cooking are the same.

"Creole is kind of the fancy downtown cooking, whereas Cajun is the rustic back swamp cooking."

Coleman and his executive chef take turns stirring the flour and vegetable oil mixture called roux as it simmers in a cast iron pan.  

" We are making a seafood gumbo with alligator sausage."

"How long do you cook this gator sausage?" "This will probably only take about 10 or 15 minutes, because it is such a lean meat."

"Tell me about the gator. Do you think that’s going to be an attraction, or is that going to kinda make people wonder?"  "Well, being from the area, we can’t imagine anybody not liking gator. And we’re thinking that the gator is going to pique their interest a little bit."

Coleman is one of eight chefs from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida going to the London to feed the U.S. Olympic team, their families and guests at  several events sponsored by  BP.

"I am so extremely proud to be representing the whole state of Mississippi, especially the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Gulf Coast seafood, our hospitality. It’s probably the biggest honor I’ve ever had in my entire life."

Tourism leaders are hoping a taste of the Gulf Coast attracts international visitors.  Beth Carriere is executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

"Well, any time that we can take advantage of exposure positive, most certainly with the way these guys cook - chef - I do believe that it will bring us into a favorable light, because our cuisine represents our culture, as well as the climate."

In the kitchen at the IP Casino, Executive Chef Chris Poplin is using a wire wisk to stir the grits.

"This is the goat cheese, yes. It’s not something that’s very often used in grits, it’s going to add a nice flavor to it."

Poplin is also representing Mississippi chefs at the Olympics. He’s cooking his version of grits with goat cheese, chives and Cajun smoked sausage. He’s topping that off with Cajun barbecue shrimp.

"And Shannon over here is helping me. He started sautéing some garlic and some onion, and then to that we added rosemary, a bottle of dark beer, lots of black pepper and some Tabasco sauce, some cayenne pepper sauce.  We’re going to get that to the nice point that we want, add some butter and cream,  and then the sauce will be finished, we’ll cook the shrimp."

"Shrimp cook really, really fast."  "How long do you cook your shrimp?" "These won’t even take two minutes to cook."

"With this Cajun shrimp dish, what do you think should people drink with it - wine or beer or what would be good?"  "Personally, I would suggest a beer, I would suggest a dark beer just like we used to prepare the dish. For a wine, I would go with something crisp, white and light like a pinot grigio, a nice summertime wine, help with the heat of that dish."

The heat of the dish may also give Olympic visitors a thirst for one drink always on the Mississippi menu."

"The tea is double sweet cools me when I eat..."

The two Mississippi chefs may just bring home some gold by luring Olympic visitors to the Gulf Coast.





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