By Connie Leinbach
Even though he came in second, Eduardo Chavez was happy to participate once again in the Seafood Throwdown on Saturday during Day at the Docks in Hatteras.
The two-day event at the waterfront was revived this year after a four-year hiatus.
Back in 2015, Eduardo, owner of Eduardo’s Tacos on Ocracoke, won this competition that’s conducted like some Food Network television shows and includes a mystery seafood ingredient.
Only two chefs competed, and Eduardo vied against a newcomer to Hatteras in Lalo Rebollo, who has Lalo’s Tacos in the Osprey center in Buxton.
“His tacos have been compared to Eduardo’s,” Karla Jarvis, one of the event coordinators, said about Lalo’s and which she decided was the perfect food item for this year’s throw down.
On Saturday (Sept. 17) the two prepared fish tacos in the main tent and before an appreciative audience of about 100.
Maryellen Ballance of Hatteras, who was MC, immediately began trading quips with Eduardo and others during the hour the chefs had to create their cuisine.
The secret ingredient was revealed — fresh-caught sheepshead.
Suddenly, Eduardo let out a shriek as he began cleaning and fileting the fish.
“That took the pressure off,” he told Ballance, as the audience laughed.
Eduardo and his sous-chef prepped limes, onions, a papaya, tomatillos and, Eduardo’s favorite ingredient, avocados for what would be his grilled sheepshead tacos.
Lalo, as he deep fried his sheepshead, told Ballance that his wife made fresh pico de gallo and a special cheese sauce that they use at the restaurant.
“The pizza’s almost ready,” Eduardo announced about halfway through the cooking.
“What?!” Balance exclaimed before she got his joke. “I don’t know about him,” she quipped to the audience. “He’s picking on me.”
At the hour mark, the chefs presented their creations to the three judges, John Griffin of the North Carolina Oyster Trail, John Aydlett of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and NC Catch, and Amy Gaw, author of the cookbook “Lost Restaurants of the Outer Banks.”
Ballance would not reveal the judge’s scores but said that although the scores were “very close,” Lalo prevailed.
“I did not lose,” Eduardo said afterwards. “I had a lot of fun and I feel very confident with what I did. I feel proud of myself to keep the fun going.”
Initially launched as a one-day event in 2004, Day at the Docks was created as a community-wide effort to recover after 2003’s devastating Hurricane Isabel, which cut a new inlet north of the village, separating Hatteras from the rest of the world for weeks.
The event grew over the years but was unexpectedly canceled in 2018 and 2019 due to hurricanes, (Florence and Dorian), and was canceled again in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The last time the event had a throw down was in 2017, Jarvis said.