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Auburn chef wins Alabama Seafood Cook-Off

Published: Jun. 17, 2021 at 11:38 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 8:55 PM CDT
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GULF SHORES, Ala. (WSFA) - Beachfront views and mouthwatering aromas greeted those who witnessed the sixth annual Alabama Seafood Cook-Off Monday evening. Now those hungry judges have declared their winner.

Scott Simpson of the Depot, located in Auburn, took top prize at this year’s Gulf Shores competition. Brandon Burleson of Sparta Academy Nutrition Program in Evergreen was runner-up.

Simpson, the Depot’s executive chef, will represent Alabama in the 17th annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans in August.

Simpson wowed the judges with his pan-seared Gulf yellow edge grouper stuffed poblano chile on Gulf shrimp, sweet corn and conecuh bacon risotto with cilantro crema.

Burleson cooked up his flame-kissed margarita shrimp over warm esquites (Mexican street corn salad) with Alabama blue crab.

The two chefs beat out Michael Andrzejewski of Fisher’s in Orange Beach and Kelly Hargroves of Wind Creek Hotel & Casino in Montgomery.

Martie Duncan, a Birmingham native, chef, author and Food Network personality was the event’s host/emcee.

“With some of the best chefs across the state of Alabama competing, this year’s Cook-Off will truly be an event you don’t want to miss,” said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and program administrator of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission.

2021 will mark the first time the annual cook-off tournament was held as an independent event, and it was the first hosted at the Lodge at Gulf State Park where chefs will create their winning plates on the open terrace amid the backdrop of the Gulf Coast’s beaches.

ABOUT THE CHEFS

Brandon Burleson

Brandon Burleson, a native of Georgiana, loves the traditional, southern influenced cuisine which takes you back to a time that was vividly more simple, when food is what brought the family together. The innovative creations featuring sustainable seafood, local produce and regionally procured meats meld together to create what he considers to be a signature Gulf Rim flavor. Although he is right at home in any kitchen, competitions are where his heart truly lies; Brandon feels in his natural element on a competitive culinary stage. At this point in his life he has recognized many things about his self and having realized that learning will be an ever evolving and continuous process he has moved into a coach and teacher role mentoring the leaders of tomorrow. Learning so much from each position that he has been fortunate enough to hold thus far. It has become abundantly clear that it is important to Brandon not only to make an investment in his own life but also those around him through peer relations, mentoring, and overall stewardship as a teacher and coach of young men and women.

“I love food and I love the sense of family that it brings. When I think back on food, I think of church dinners and family suppers. I think of when life seemed a little more relaxed and the laughter and happiness that always seemed to be tied around cookouts and I want to hold on to that feeling and share it with others.”

Michael Andrzejewski

Mike Andrzejewski began his career in the seventies and has witnessed many changes in the food industry over the years. Mike spent many years working and learning at some of the best restaurants in Western New York before opening his first restaurant with his wife Sherri. After several years of critical acclaim, they were forced to close after a serious motorcycle accident severely injured Chef Mike. However, after a 10 month hiatus, the chef returned to the kitchen and opened several new venues, ranging from fine dining to casual Mexican. Mike also focused his love of food towards teaching and became an associate instructor at a local college where he was able to help and inspire young chefs and cooks beginning their own careers.

Chef Mike has always been an active and driving force in hospitality industry, both in business, by starting several culinary organizations and industry events and in his community and by participating in many charities including hunger relief and food bank support.

The chef is recognized as a James Beard Semifinalist( 3 times) has had many television appearances, Including " Beating Bobby Flay” and other national programming.

Chef Mike and Sherri relocated to Gulf Shores, Alabama in 2020, after vacationing there for several years and has been enamored with the Gulf Fishing bounty and the local farms and producers. Mike is proud to represent Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina, where he works with Executive Chef Bill Briand, and is committed to learning about and contributing to the traditions of Southern Food and Hospitality.

Kelly Hargroves

Kelly Hargroves, a native of Savannah, Georgia and longtime resident of Montgomery, joined the Wind Creek Montgomery culinary team in 2016. He currently serves as Room Chef of Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Montgomery. He manages team member dining, catering and hotel room service. He also represents the Wind Creek Montgomery culinary team in charity events and numerous Cooking competitions.

Scott Simpson

Scott Simpson’s culinary career spans over 30 years. As Executive Chef and Co-Owner of the historic Auburn Depot in Auburn, Alabama, Chef Simpson is bringing globally inspired cuisine to the heart of the South. Growing up with rich culinary roots from a Mexican and Italian heritage, Chef Simpson was surrounded by food as a child and quickly learned that his passion would also be his profession. Chef Simpson’s education and background include training in Florence, Italy at the Giuliano Bugialli Professional Culinary School, (the first English language cooking school in Italy) and at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, CA, where he trained under such prestigious chefs as Rick Bayless, Roberto Donna, Michael Chiarello, Terri Sanderson and Karen McNeil. Chef Simpson began his career as a Chef at Vicorp Specialty Restaurants in San Diego, CA, for the company’s highest volume establishment and as corporate training chef for the region. Next he joined Mille Fleurs in Sante Fe, NM, which was ranked as one of the top 10 French restaurants in the United States. Subsequently, he opened Mille Fleurs Brasserie in Palm Desert, CA as Chef de Cuisine, where he received first place in the U.S. Chef Open Competition. That same year, Chef Simpson became part of the leading hospitality brand, Marriott International, when he joined JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa as a specialty chef responsible for the development of Ristorante Tuscany, which became a flagship restaurant at Marriott properties around the world. During his time in Palm Desert, personal recipes were produced for both Gourmet and Bon Appetit Magazine. Later, he was selected to open the ninth luxury JW Marriott Hotel in Quito, Ecuador, where he worked as Executive Chef and Director of Restaurants. In this capacity, he helped train Marriott chefs from Buenos Aires, Lima and Panama, and performed as an international judge in the Culinary Olympics in Santiago, Chile and was actively involved in establishing the “Mesa de los Chefs” culinary organization in Ecuador. From the Andean city of Quito, Chef Simpson continued his global culinary expeditions with Marriott International to Mumbai, India. As Executive chef at the Renaissance Hotel & Marriott Lake Chalet Apartments he was responsible for the largest convention center hotel in the country and led a kitchen staff of more than 150 associates. His food and beverage expertise helped the property garner the #1 ranking for overall guest satisfaction in the Renaissance Hotel brand. While living in India, Chef Simpson also assisted with a hospitality task force abroad in Bankgok, Thailand and other areas of Southeast Asia during his tenure. He also was part of the creation of the Western India Culinary Association,WICA, in Mumbai, India.

In 2004, Chef Simpson relocated back to the United States and was appointed as the new Executive Chef for the AAA-Four Diamond hotel, JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona. As the largest luxury resort in Arizona, Chef Simpson was responsible for 200,000 square feet of meeting space and over 10 dining and lounge outlets. While in Arizona, Chef Simpson’s food was ranked #1 in Quality out of 300 Marriott Resort Hotels in the U.S. during 2003. From Arizona, Chef Simpson was recruited by former president of the Ritz Carlton Hotel groups, Horst Schulze, to join a portfolio of top-tier ultra luxury hotels by Capella Hotel. Joining their elite task force, he helped open exclusive resorts in Mexico, Singapore, and Bali. In 2008, he was assigned to open the premier Caribbean property at the Solis Palmyra Hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Gaining expertise in Caribbean and Jamaican cuisine, Chef Simpson was also on the board of the Culinary Federation of Jamaica, in charge of all culinary education programs. After Jamaica, Chef Simpson helped open the critically acclaimed Capella property in Georgetown, DC, and then was tasked with overseeing the culinary restoration of The Founders Inn (Capella Managed Hotel) for the company in Virginia Beach, VA full-time as Executive Chef. During his time, the main restaurant Swan Terrace went from #648 on Tripadvisor to #4 for the city of Virginia Beach. As a Board Member at the Culinary Institute of Virginia, Chef Simpson was actively involved with the charitable organization, March of Dimes. Receiving critical acclaim from Coastal Living, Best Hampton Roads, and Virginia Beach Awards, Chef Simpson brought the best of fine dining with his sustainable cuisine.

In 2014, Chef Simpson transferred to Auburn, Alabama to become Executive Chef & Culinary Educator for The Hotel at Auburn University and a role as culinary instructor for Auburn University’s Hospitality program. After spending some time in Auburn, Chef Simpson met the Poiriers, locally loved restaurateurs, and together with General Manager, Richard Tomasello, they decided to open a gulf seafood brasserie at the Auburn train Depot. Focusing on sustainable and responsibly harvested seafood, Chef Simpson became the first fully qualified and certified James Beard Smart Catch chef in the state of Alabama.

In 2018, Chef Scott won 2nd place at the 4th Annual Alabama Seafood Cook-off. Chef Scott is proud to be bringing the freshest seafood to Auburn and looks forward to continuing initiatives that protect our waters and delicate ecosystems as well as being an advocate for Alabama seafood.

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