N.C. red drum fillets gave Dare County chef Bud Gruninger the edge recently in the Great American Seafood Cook-off in New Orleans. Gruninger, executive chef at Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café in Nags Head, took home second place in the competition with his winning seafood dish accompanied by riced mashed potatoes, sautéd jumbo lump crab meat, sweet corn and onion puree, a fried pastry packed with summer vegtables and a microgreen salad.
This is the first time a chef from North Carolina and the Atlantic Coast has placed in the history of the national competition.
Gruninger’s dish featured the best of N.C. agriculture. In his winning recipe, the potatoes were the only item not from North Carolina. That same focus on using local ingredients is carried into his daily menu at the Lone Cedar Café.
“In the restaurant, 80-85 percent of what we use is from North Carolina.” Gruninger said. “I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.”
The restaurant is also one of a few in the state to feature 100 percent local seafood on its menu. That’s one of the reasons the chef was selected to represent North Carolina in the national competition. William Small, manager of the NCDA&CS Seafood Marketing Office, chose Gruninger to represent the state. Small has been involved with the cookoff since it began, and said Gruninger was a natural pick for the competition. “In his restaurant, Bud highlights the variety of local produce and seafood available in our state,” Small said. “He was the best choice to represent North Carolina seafood and agriculture on the national level.”
Gruninger carries the local message beyond the restaurant. He is part of a new project called Outer Banks Catch to help brand seafood caught fresh along the Outer Banks. The collaboration between commercial fishermen, restaurants and community supporters hopes to revitalize the seafood industry on the Outer Banks.
“We want to inform the public on the difference between domestic and imported seafood,” said Gruninger. “You can’t even compare the two items when it comes to quality.”
You can see Chef Gruninger prepare his winning dish when the Great American Seafood Cook-off airs this fall on the Food Network.