Chef's rockfish rocks

Winner: Rich Hoffman's seared fillet and accompanying fare net him the grand prize in the state's cooking contest in Ocean City.

February 13, 2002|By Tracy Sahler | Tracy Sahler,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OCEAN CITY - Rich Hoffman's winning recipe in the fifth annual Maryland Rockfish Celebration Cooking Contest here was so carefully constructed and finely flavored that it could be an entree in a fine restaurant.

In fact, it already was.

When the 26-year-old sous-chef at Rudys' 2900 restaurant in Finksburg created his contest entry, his boss, chef Rudy Speckamp, put a version of the dish in the specials rotation so Hoffman could practice and perfect it. Diners liked Hoffman's creation, and so did the contest judges, awarding him a $500 grand prize and a silver bowl.

Hoffman said he enjoyed cooking his Seared Rockfish Fillet, Potato and Crab Galette, Charred Tomato, Onion and Red Pepper Salsa, and Tequila Lime Butter Sauce with prizes at stake, just as he relishes the challenges of each day on the job.

The Ellicott City resident started in the restaurant business when he was 14. A graduate of the Southeast Institute of Culinary Arts, he had an apprenticeship at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. This was his first contest since his student days.

Hoffman thought nothing of leaving a professional kitchen behind to prepare a complex dish in an hour with nothing but a burner and toaster oven. He made the salsa and crab mixture ahead of time, and reduced the liquids for the butter sauce, but did everything else at his contest station.

"This is fun for me. I know it sounds kind of corny and lame, but people come to these things to learn," Hoffman said. "How are you supposed to learn if you can't have your peers tell you what you've done right and what you've done wrong?"

Winning was nice, but, "It was worth it before I even knew I won," said the chef, who got a rare weekend off to compete in the event.

Three screeners for the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Seafood Marketing Program chose 10 finalists for the cooking contest from 50 entries received.

At the Roland E. Powell Convention Center on Feb. 2, contest organizers provided each of the nine finalists (a 10th was a no-show) with 2 pounds of fresh rockfish fillets, two tables, an electrical hookup and a roll of paper towels. The finalists had to furnish the remaining ingredients, cooking equipment and serving dishes.

Four professional chefs and five home cooks competed in the contest, held in conjunction with the East Coast Commercial Fishermen's and Aquaculture Trade Expo in Ocean City. It might have been cold outside, but inside the contest cooking room it smelled and tasted like summer. Cooks conjured up warmer days with ingredients like crab, nectarines, Silver Queen corn, and the margarita mix of tequila, orange and lime.

"This is, I think, the year of the fruit," said Noreen L. Eberly, Seafood Marketing Program director.

Each finished dish was whisked from the cooking area to an adjacent room, where judges tasted the food and debated the dish's merits in the areas of appearance, taste, originality and predominance of rockfish. What was left of the entry then went back to the cooking room, where expo visitors were lined up for samples.

"The public swoons in, and heaven help you if you're standing in the way," said Randy Eberly, Noreen Eberly's husband and a helper for the contest that day.

A professional chef won the top prize, but two so-called "professional amateurs" came in second and third. Marty Hyson of Baltimore finished second with his Rockfish Braised With Apple Juice on Wilted Baby Spinach With Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins. Jerry Brady of La Plata placed third with Double Rock With Honey Dill Butter Served With Baby Greens Salad and Sweet Potato Slices. Both had entered the contest before, and Hyson is a past winner in the National Oyster Cook-Off. Hyson won $300, and Brady won $200 in the rockfish cooking contest.

Contest recipes are available from Maryland's Seafood Marketing Program. Call the request line at 410-841-5972, or 888-841-5828.

The Maryland Rockfish Celebration Cooking Contest was sponsored by the Maryland Commercial Fishermen, Maryland Seafood processors and the Maryland Department of Agriculture Seafood Marketing Program.

Rockfish Fillet, Potato-Crab Galette, Tomato-Pepper Salsa and Butter Sauce

Serves 4 to 6


2 pounds rockfish fillets

salt and pepper


2 red peppers, cored and seeded

6 medium red tomatoes, cored, cut in half

1 Spanish onion, peeled, cut into 1-inch slices

3 scallions, very thinly sliced

3 tablespoons white vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

cayenne pepper to taste

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, reserve stems


2 cups tequila

1 cup triple sec

juice and zest of 5 limes

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

stems from cilantro (reserved from salsa recipe)

1 cup cream

1 pound sweet butter (unsalted)


2 russet potatoes

clarified butter

1 pound jumbo lump Maryland crab meat

6 artichoke hearts, chopped

3 ears of corn, shucked, cut off cob, sauteed

1 tablespoon chopped chives

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

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