ST. PETERSBURG — The Williams sisters bring it on the court; for Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine it was on the silver screen. Sibling rivalry can spur people on to greatness. On Saturday at the P. Buckley Moss gallery, some serious familial competition did just that. Doug Bebell of Mystic Fish in Palm Harbor and brother Scott Bebell from Guppy's in Indian Rocks Beach turned up the heat deliciously, the executive chefs pitted against each other in a seafood-cooking competition to raise money for their charities of choice.
In the small downtown gallery nearly 100 foodies slipped onto folding chairs to watch the event sponsored by St. Petersburg's Sammy's Seafood. In the corner, judges eagle-eyed the brothers' cooking demonstrations and tasted the finished dishes. The men to please were Tom Pritchard (Salt Rock Grill, Island Way Grill, Marlin Darlin, Rumba), his sous chef Robert Lebron, John Harris (Rusty's Bistro, Sheraton Sand Key Resort) and Times' former food critic Chris Sherman, but everyone in the audience got a sample — and a say.
Doug won the coin toss, starting things up with a soy beurre blanc, reducing shallots, white wine and lemon juice on a burner in the makeshift kitchen as he explained his dish to the audience. Hogfish was to be crusted in cilantro-spiked panko and paired with a sesame slivered sea bean salad and a drizzle of the rich sauce.
As he cooked, he shared cooking advice: Sear or grill your seafood quickly on the outside, then finish it off last minute in the oven so fish gets to the table hot. And when it comes to buying fish fillets, look for those that are dry, without a sheen (that sheen signals age).
At the Lobster Pot in Redington Shores for 12 years before opening Mystic Fish 11 years ago, Doug radiated confidence. Atop the fish he placed a single sauteed shrimp blushed with a homemade togarashi seasoning (usually a blend of chili pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds). It paid off: The judges were charmed.
"The dish was creative, with original ideas,'' Harris said. "Togarashi is usually too hot," but basil and orange zest lent some sweetness to Doug's. But before big brother could claim bragging rights, younger sibling Scott took the stage. Self-taught, Scott just celebrated his 20th anniversary at Guppy's, known for its fish-centric Floribbean cuisine.
As he prepped his tandoori-rubbed sea scallops with parsnip and Fuji apple sauce and ginger-citrus baby spinach, audience members leaned in to snap photos, posting to Twitter and food blogs. Gary O'Brien and wife, Allison, drove from Sarasota for the event with the aim of posting to OBrienTastings.net. Like many of the attendees, the O'Briens had attended other demonstrations and tastings sponsored by Sammy's Seafood.
In the end, the judges and even the audience deemed it a tie, Doug nabbing $1,000 for Religious Community Services in Largo and Scott getting the same amount for the American Cancer Society.
A quick circuit around the room revealed that Scott may have had the edge, attendees spooning up every morsel of the scallop — topped with bacon, the ace up every chef's sleeve. We'll call it a draw, but as Mrs. Bebell probably said back in the day, "You boys fight fair."
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow her on Twitter, @lreiley.