SHELTON - Bob Caswell, owner of Caswell's On The Bay Bed & Breakfast Inn, Ocean Park, won the 2004 West Coast Seafood Cook-off held during Oysterfest in Shelton, Oct. 3.
Caswell won a gold medal for best entry in the main dish category with his "Crabby Oysters" dish, and won another gold medal and grand prize of $600 for overall best dish of the festival. He was assisted by Ann Wammer, a long-time friend from Seattle who used to live in Long Beach. The event is sponsored by the Skookum Rotary Club.
Bob said his anxiety was greater for this event than others because they grouped amateurs with professionals this year. He won first place as an amateur, second place went to a professional, and third place went to a culinary arts student. There were a total of 21 chefs competing in the event. The categories were main dish, soups and stews, and appetizers.
The event is held annually at the Mason County fairgrounds in Shelton. The seafood festival is held in conjunction with the West Coast Oyster Shucking Contest and was attended by an estimated 16,000 to 20,000 people.
The basic recipe for his winning dish was from his mother's recipe for scalloped oysters, his favorite dish as a child, then he added a half pound of Dungeness crab legs and some other popular flavors, spices, and textures that make the taste buds jump for joy. He garnished the recipe with sour cream, caviar, chopped red onion, a crab leg, in an oyster shell, and roasted garlic on a toasted baguette, his home made coleslaw, and the main dish trimmed with nasturtiums and parsley. Here is the recipe for his winning
"CRABBY OYSTERS" 1 qt. extra small oysters, with liquid
1/2 pound Dungeness crab legs
1/2 pound butter
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 cups cracker crumbs
1/2 cup cooked chopped bacon
2 Tbsp cream
1/4 cup chopped roasted hazelnuts
l/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup diced red pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup diced onion
1 2.8 oz. can French's French fried onions
1 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
\1/2 tsp. Worcester sauce
1/2 tsp. White pepper
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tsp. Red wine vinegar
1 Tsp. Sugar
1/2 tsp. Red pepper flakes
1. Saute onions in butter in a cast iron skillet. Add bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, and bacon. Coat with butter mix. Spread 1/2 of mix on bottom of three quart baking. Layer oysters and crab on top of mix. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.
2. Add diced red pepper, green onion, parsley, to the other half of bread/cracker mix and stir in skillet. Spread remaining bread/cracker mix over the oysters and crab.
3. Emulsify cream, vinegar, spices, Tabasco, Worcester, mustard, red pepper flakes. Mix with oyster liquor. Pour over oysters and crab.
4. Bake in pre-heated 425 degree oven for 20 minutes. Take out of oven and sprinkle hazel nuts and French fried onions over top. Bake an additional 5 minutes.
5. Garnish with nasturtiums.
SERVING: (Serves 8) Serve individual servings with a dollop of sour cream, chopped red onion, caviar, and sliced lemon.
Entrants prepared before a panel of five judges from around the state, and the preparation is done on stage with a slanted overhead mirror so the judges can watch the preparation. John Hink, co-ordinator of the event, said the judges had given him exceptionally high scores, one of them being 100. The judging breakdown is done in four basic categories: l. Presentation (Uniqueness, creative artistry, garnish, eye appeal, and portioning), 2. Essentials (taste, texture, doneness, timing, and misc. enplace), 3. Sanitation (safe handling, cross contamination, safe cooking procedures, appropriate safe cooking temperatures), 4. Professionalism.
Bob explained that entrants really have to be well prepared because you have to be able to do all of the above within a one hour time frame. That means bringing all your cooking utensils and ingredients up to the stage, doing all the preparation which is setting the judges table with place settings; serving up side dishes, such as salad, breads, and garnishes to compliment the main dish; cooking the main dish with five judges critiquing; bringing a second dish and heating it up for the large crowd watching the event, and then cleaning and packing up and back off the stage within one hour.
One of the judges even asked where Caswell acquired such firm oysters. He told them they were Jolly Roger oysters from Nahcotta. Thanks to Lonnie and Ken, they were packed to perfection. The festival was a lot of fun, and when food is involved it is always more fun.
In 2001, Bob won first place with his "Hangtown Bake," a take-off on a popular oyster dish called a hangtown fry. He took second place in the National Oyster Cook-off in St. Mary's, Md., that year. He said he probably could have won first if he had known of the emphasis on presentation. He said it was filmed on the food channel, and they are still showing it in re-runs. In 2003, he took third place in Shelton with his "Oyster's Ole" entry.
When asked where he acquired his cooking skills, Caswell said, "I love to eat. I live to eat, not eat to live. My mother's cooking was the best. I subscribe to cooking magazines such as Bon Appetite, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Cooking, Northwest Palate, and Cuisine. In the 70s, I never missed Julia Child's cooking show on Sundays. She was a kick. Everything was Bon Appetite. I met her three different times, have a signed cookbook and a signed invitation declining to come to our bed and breakfast as a guest. I absolutely adored her. She didn't edit her cooking shows. The funniest thing I ever saw was when she was using a mix-master mixer and the blades were in the mix. It wouldn't run and she tried several things to make it work. She then lifted the blades out of the mix and it started at high speed spreading mix all over Julia and everything else. She exclaimed whoopsee! and I couldn't stop laughing and still do when I think about it. Running a bed & breakfast and landscaping three acres of property doesn't give me much time for tinkering with cooking, but when I do, I have a pretty good idea of what I want in a dish. Practicing on our regular B&B guests hasn't hurt either. They love the idea of what I am doing, and they are very good critics on what to do to improve the dish. It is like a group effort. Having local friends like Nanci Main, Jimela Lucas, Judy Andrews, and others have helped me to do my best. Thanks to all."
The Web site for Caswell's Bed & Breakfast is (www.caswellsinn.com). Bob serves up his famous pan fried oysters with every breakfast providing the guests like oysters. His guests say they are the "best" ever.