There has never been a chef whom I thought was a winner just from taking one bite of his food. That happened, though, in 2013 when Cody Carroll was a contestant in the Great American Seafood Cook-Off competition, sponsored by the Louisiana Seafood Board. I was a judge who had to decide among 10 contestants – each of whom had prepared a seafood dish during the competition at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.
Some of the chefs were big names from well-known restaurants; Carroll was a no-name from a little-known restaurant, a place called Hot Tails, a converted convenience store located on Hospital Road in the Pointe Coupee Parish town of New Roads.
As it happened, Carroll was first in line to present his creation. “First” is a disadvantageous position, subject to be forgotten about by the time No. 10 is reached. However, Carroll’s dish – something called Speckled Trout Perdu – was so damn good I remember thinking that nothing ahead could possibly be better. Here, I proved to be a prophet. From talking to the judges after the contest, all of whom were food professionals and thus better qualified than me, Carroll’s dish was the clear winner. If this were a horse race, he would have led from the gate to the post.
With much fanfare, Carroll was crowned (there literally was a crown) the state’s Seafood King while sharing the honors with his sous-chef wife, Samantha.
Louisiana Life featured Carroll on its July/August 2013 cover as the new Seafood King, and the Seafood Board had someone else to boast about. (A personal note: The following year the contest inexplicably hit a political bump and was transferred to another agency, which did hardly anything to promote it and has not been a factor since.)
For Carroll, the crown brought opportunity. Having already proved that he can compete with big-league cooking, he’s expanded to the big city. Recently he opened Sac-a-lait, a seafood restaurant, named after the game fish, in New Orleans’ Warehouse District. The place is so new that I have not been there by press time, but some snooping food writers have told me that the facility and the menu look very impressive. They expect great things.
Hot Tails is still in business in New Roads; Carroll will handle the cooking at Sac-a-lait. I suspect New Orleans, and the world’s travelers who wander through it, will embrace this place – from the very first bite.