In August, when chef Doug Gulija of the Plaza Café in Southampton was selected to represent New York State in the Third Annual Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans, things seemed to go awry as soon as he was south of the Mason-Dixon line. Most of the ingredients he shipped down (except for some striped bass he brought by hand) were destroyed in transport. So was his equipment. And then there were the jokes. “Down there, the vision of New York is that we all live in the South Bronx,” said Gulija, who hopes the event increased tourism in Louisiana. “They don’t realize that we have farmland and vineyards. Every time I did an interview down there, I had to defend both myself and New York.”
For the competition, Gulija featured the East End’s late summer harvest of bass, potatoes and corn. He rolled striped bass strips into a pinwheel shape, brushing the skin with lemon-herb puree before pan roasting the fish. Next to the fish sat a quick-fried potato cylinder that held the Plaza Café’s popular shepherd’s pie of lobster and shrimp, and the dish was garnished with corn foam and baby corn shoots (“It’s almost like that cereal, Corn Puffs. A big burst of corn flavor, but healthy for you”).
The judges considered the dish a bit too complex and gave the first prize to a local boy who prepared sautéed snapper on a fruit salsa with mango sauce. Possible favoritism aside, Gulija’s recipe was later profiled in the Louisiana Times right next to the winners and his fellow participants did treat him to beaucoup étoufée. Gazing at a rather small commemorative trophy in his office, Gulija is considering putting his dish on the Plaza Café menu after Labor Day: “I got a mission to win this thing next year.”