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Chefs prepare for shrimp festival
Dave Snyder can't wait to show off his culinary skills this weekend at the Shrimp & Grits Festival on Jekyll Island.

He serves the Southern delicacy at his restaurant, Halyards, on St. Simons Island, and this weekend he will be competing against three other professional chefs for the title of Best Shrimp and Grits.

"It's a great way to celebrate our traditions," Snyder said. "It's a great way to showcase our local cuisine."

Shrimp and grits is ubiquitous in the Low country, and the dish brings foodies from across the Southeast to Jekyll Island. Last year 25,000 people attended the three-day festival and more are expected this year, according to the Jekyll Island Authority, which operates the island state park.

Snyder says the festival shows off the best the Golden Isles has to offer.

"Local shrimp is a huge advantage we have over other areas because the shrimp is so sweet and delicious," he said.

The festival also draws attention to the local shrimping industry, said John Wallace, a longtime shrimper and marketing director for the Georgia Shrimp Association, a sponsor of the event.

"It means a lot to us as a group and as individuals. It showcases our wild Georgia shrimp with the some of the better local chefs in the area," Wallace said.

Shrimp and grits is an easy and common dish to make aboard a boat, Wallace said.

"We have our shrimp and grits that we cook onboard the vessel but to see the variations that these chefs can come up with is astonishing," Wallace said. "We've seen shrimp and sushi grits. It's just astonishing."

In its seventh year, the festival, which takes place in the island's historic district, includes multiple events. Shellfish lovers will be able to show off their shrimp peeling skills in a speed eating competition and sample an array of dishes centered around the Southern staple.

Festival-goers can also take part in a craft brew tasting from Southern Eagle Distributing's malt and hop lines and will have a chance to witness the release of two rehabilitated turtles Saturday morning by the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

Music, cooking demonstrations, a cookbook signing and arts and crafts vendors will line the historic district.

In addition to the professional cooking competition, 10 amateur chefs will compete for bragging rights and $800. The winner of the professional competition will receive $2,000.

Harlan Hambright took home the top prize in last year's amateur competition with his Mediterranean-flavored shrimp and grits.

He got the idea to do an internationally-inspired dish after writing his book about international influences in Georgia, "The Idiat and the Odd-yssey."

Hambright originally took to the competition "sort of as a joke and as a cheap way to promote my book."

But he's returning this year with another international dish and a more serious attitude.

"I do most of the cooking at our house," Hambright said. "I enjoy doing it, and my mother was an excellent cook. Two of my three sisters are in the culinary business in Knoxville as a direct result of being exposed to our mother's cooking all of our lives."

If you go

The Shrimp & Grits Festival on Jekyll Island begins Friday and ends Sunday. Admission to the festival is free, but some events charge a fee. Visitors will be shuttled from parking at the Jekyll Island Airport to the historic district. Roads surrounding the district will be closed beginning at 3 p.m. Friday. Among events are:

* The Georgia Sea Turtle Center will release two rehabilitated turtles - a loggerhead and green sea turtle - at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Great Dunes Park.

* A craft brew tasting will take place inside the Morgan Center from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and 12:30 to 3 p.m. Sunday. Ten tastings can be purchased for $10.

* Shrimp eating contests will take place at 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday and at 1 p.m. Sunday.

* The amateur chefs competition will take place from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturday near the Pier Road stage in the historic district.

* The professional competition will take place from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Sunday near the Pier Road stage in the historic district.



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