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Louisiana Seafood Crown

Photo courtesy of Wayne Cooper

DREAM COME TRUE -- Hammond Chef Wayne Cooper and his youngest son meet world-famous New Orleans chef Leah Chase, who autographed a book for Cooper. The local chef will be one of 14 who will compete at the Louisiana Seafood Cook-off later this month.

By LAUREN LANGLOIS staffwriter@hammondstar.com

Hammond chef Wayne Cooper is ready to blow some minds with a delectable fish dish at the 2019 Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off.

He will compete with 13 other chefs inside Lafayette's Cajundome Convention Center on June 18 during the 12th annual competition, presented by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board in partnership with the Louisiana Restaurant Association.

The winner will be crowned the King or Queen of Louisiana Seafood and will represent the state at the Great American Seafood Cook-off in New Orleans on Aug. 3.

Cooper is no stranger to competitive cooking. He started a cooking team 26 years ago called Blazed and Confused. It all began when businessman Charlie Blackwell, a barbecue judge, was wowed by Cooper's brisket and encouraged him to get into competitive cooking.

The chef's office walls at North Cypress Fitness Center, where Cooper has worked as food and beverage director since 2015, are covered with awards and recognitions the team has earned over the years. In 2016, he was voted Best Chef in Tangipahoa Parish.

The team started out competing in barbecue contests, later branching out to take on other kinds of cooking. Blazed and Confused is now made up of Cooper, Bo Johnson, Joe Bruno and Kevin Cote.

He said their strategy is to "keep it simple and to have lots of fun."

"If you're nervous you're bound to make a mistake, so we try to discontinue that a long time ago," he said.

They won first place at a Culinary Fight Club competition in New Orleans in March. The World Food Championship ranked the team fifth in the world in its bacon category in 2018. The team has qualified for the World Food Championship in the bacon category for the sixth year now.

Cooper will take Johnson with him to compete in Lafayette. Their dish has to feature a Louisiana seafood, and they have settled on lemon fish. Each team will have one hour to cook, he said.

Cooper takes pride in Louisiana's rich culinary heritage and strives to represent the state's food well. At a recent competition in Sturgis, South Dakota, he and his team made Louisiana flavor the star of a burger that earned them first place.

Each contestant brought a secret ingredient, and Blazed and Confused chose green tomato. The team topped the burger with a fried green tomato and a home-made remoulade sauce. It was tasty enough to advance the team to the finals, where bourbon was a surprise ingredient. The bourbon was combined with peaches to make a barbecue sauce for the fried green tomato burger.

After taking a bite of the burger, one of the judges commented "that's what Louisiana tastes like." For Cooper, the judge's reaction is what drives him to cook in competitions, as well as at home.

"It's that person taking that bite of food and looking up and smiling because it made them happy," he said.

It was his mother and grandmother who first sparked his love for creating delicious food. As the oldest of four boys, he often had to help out in the kitchen, at first unwillingly but later with pleasure.

"I was able to pick up enough of it to start to love and understand it," he said.

Later on in his life, he decided to pursue cooking professionally. He said his education came not from culinary school, but from working under great chefs, who passed on their knowledge to him.

Meeting talented chefs inspired him to pursue a culinary career.

He met the late Leah Chase while dining at her renowned restaurant, Dooky Chase.

He and his family were eating there about five years ago and asked the waitress if Chase could autograph her cookbook for him. Not only did he get her autograph, but also he and his children were invited to meet her in the kitchen, where they saw the then 91-year-old stirring a pot of undoubtedly delicious Creole food.

Cooper described the famous New Orleans chef, who grew up in Madisonville and died June 1, as welcoming and kind. He felt honored to stand in the kitchen with her.

"She just made you feel like you were at home." he said.

He and his wife, Carla, have five adopted children, Keith, Kaleb, Anna Marie, Bryce and Trey, who range in age from 14 to 19.

TICKETS

The 2019 Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off will be in conjunction with Taste of EatLafayette. Tickets for both events are available at louisianaseafood.com.