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'Top Chef' Contestant Cooks Up Sustainable Seafood

Chef Keith Rhodes of Catch Modern Seafood Cuisine, Wilmington, NCChef Keith Rhodes preparing his award winning crab cakes in this year's "People's Choice Carolina Crab Cake Competition." The crab cakes featured North Carolina crab meat provided by Carteret CatchThe previous link is a link to Non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer, one of the state's four local catch branding programsThe previous link is a link to Non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer. North Carolina Sea Grant worked with fishermen to develop these branding programs, which help local fishermen and seafood dealers distinguish their products from the competition.October 21, 2011: More than 200,000 visitors travelled to Morehead City, North Carolina earlier this month to celebrate one of the state’s greatest natural resources – seafood. For the last four years, North Carolina’s annual Seafood Festival has featured award-winning cooking demonstrations and contests that allow people to better understand the journey of seafood from ocean to plate. Among the chefs at this year’s festival, was Keith Rhodes, one of the contestants from the popular BRAVO reality TV show, “Top Chef.”

When he’s not on TV, Chef Rhodes is a sustainable seafood chef for Catch Restaurant and opening soon Phun Seafood Bar in Wilmington, North Carolina.  At the festival, Rhodes won the “People’s Choice Carolina Crab Cake Competition” after facing off with other chefs to see who could prepare the best crab cake from locally caught crabs.

From his start 20 years ago, Rhodes built his culinary career by preparing signature seafood dishes using only the freshest products from local fisheries, aquaculture farms, and markets. Although getting local, sustainable products for his restaurants can be a challenge at times, he says it’s important to do the best you can and really know your products. This means understanding the seasonality and regulations behind wild-caught seafood. With farm-raised seafood, he gathers all the information he can on everything from where the fish is grown to what it eats while being raised. One of his most popular dishes is blackened catfish, which comes from a farm 100 miles north of his restaurant.

Chef Rhodes, who was a 2011 James Beard nominee for Southeast Chef of the Year, also goes the extra mile to make sure his sustainable seafood
Bud Gruninger with audience as backgroundCooking demonstrations like those that go on at the North Carolina Seafood Festival are a great way to help a captive audience learn howthe science-based management of fish stocks ensures a sustainable seafood supply and supports fishermen. This year's event was partly supported through NOAA's FishWatch and North Carolina Sea GrantThe previous link is a link to Non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer. dishes are paired with locally grown, organic produce. He even fries his shrimp in local soybean oil, and prefers to run out of a menu item rather than waste leftovers. He says that he likes to stress the importance of supporting the local economy and community as a part of sustainability, and has developed strong relationships with nearby fishermen and farmers over the years.

Rhodes’ philosophies are catching on in his local community. Truth in advertising has become a selling point for his menu items – customers appreciate knowing where their meal comes from and the story behind it. His customers tell him that they now look everywhere to find North Carolina on the menu. Rhodes says he’s lucky because he has an enlightened staff and loyal customers that can help educate people that dine in his restaurants and live in the Wilmington area.

When asked what his favorite dish to eat or prepare was, Chef Rhodes said, “I wouldn’t want to narrow it down. I enjoy cooking so many different local seafood dishes. I love when shrimp are in season, but wait, our local clams are so good,I can’t narrow it down. There’s such an abundance and I enjoy highlighting the best of the coast.”

Rhodes is also quick to point out that we could never have the bounty the environment provides if we don’t take care of it.

For the latest information on the sustainability of U.S. seafood, visit NOAA’s or contact Katie Semon and


Chef Rhodes' Winning Carolina Crab Cakes with Texas Pete Aioli

Chef Rhode’s Winning Carolina Crab Cakes with Texas Pete Aioli Selected at the N.C. Seafood Festival Cooking with the ChefsThe previous link is a link to Non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer
Winning Chef: Keith Rhodes of Catch Restaurant Wilmington, NC
Sponsored by: NC Department of Agriculture – Seafood Division
Texas Pete-The Official Cocktail Sauce of the N.C. Seafood Festival
October 2, 2011

1 lb NC Jumbo Lump Crab
½ tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp each of sea salt & white pepper
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp mayo
6 saltine crackers, ground to a powder

Combine all ingredients and make into 3 oz cakes. You should get about 5 cakes per pound. Heat sauté pan on medium, with 1/3 cup of soybean oil. When oil is hot, add crab cakes and cook 4 minutes each side until toasted brown crust appears. Take out of pan, drain & serve.

Texas Pete Aioli
1 cup mayo
1/3 cup Texas Pete hot sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp white pepper
½ tbsp honey

Whisk all ingredients together and you’re ready to go.

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