The Uptown po-boy shop The Sammich tops its creations with such unexpected flourishes as mango cream sauce and kimchi coleslaw. Now, the man behind these offbeat sandwiches wears a crown that’s typically bestowed on chefs from the state’s best fine-dining restaurants.
Owner Michael Brewer won the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off, an annual contest held Saturday in conjunction with the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience. As such, the po-boy shop proprietor was dubbed King of Louisiana Seafood for the year, an honor that comes complete with a gleaming crown.
Produced by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, the competition gathered 10 chefs from across the state, each of whom prepared a dish on the spot for a panel of judges.
While he said he was intent on winning, Brewer considered himself a long shot competing against chefs from some big-name Louisiana restaurants, like GW Fins and Restaurant IPO in Baton Rouge.
“It was very unexpected, to say the least,” he said of his win. “I was drinking wine when they announced the winners, and when they called my name, I almost spit it out.”
His winning dish was called the “sheepshead nacho,” which Brewer engineered as a riff on the nacho plate, with sautéed fish, a corn and tomato salsa, bacon-fat tartar sauce and crisp fish skin, fried up to serve the role of chips.
As King of Louisiana Seafood, Brewer will travel to various events throughout the year, and he’ll compete with chefs from around the nation at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans on Aug. 8.
Brewer worked at various restaurant jobs in New Orleans before a visit to the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival inspired The Sammich.
He started by reconfiguring restaurant dishes into po-boys and serving them out of a walk-up window inside a Mid-City music club. Korean barbecue chicken, lobster tempura, duck confit and osso bucco have all been transformed into sandwiches on his menu.
In 2014, he moved The Sammich to a stand-alone location at 7708 Maple St.
While his winning dish was not a po-boy, Brewer said it was based on the same basic principle he uses for his restaurant menu.
“The idea was to take a dish that could be fine dining and bring it around to something you could eat with your hands,” he said.
Past Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off winners include Commander’s Palace chef Tory McPhail; Keith Frentz, of Lola in Covington; and Aaron Burgau, chef of Patois, who won last year.
Brewer isn’t the first chef from outside the fine-dining realm to win the cook-off. In 2013, the crown went to Samantha and Cody Carroll, who run Hot Tails, a restaurant in New Roads for boiled crawfish and creative renditions of rural comfort food.
The win propelled the couple’s plans for a more upscale restaurant, which materialized this spring when they opened their ambitious Sac-a-Lait in the Warehouse District.
Brewer, meanwhile, said he will remain focused on The Sammich and exploring what else he can do with po-boys.
His cook-off dish isn’t on the regular menu, but he said he’ll be working in more local seafood dishes and some beer pairing events as the summer progresses.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.