After winning the Georgia’s Best Shrimp & Grits competition at the 2016 Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival, Andrew Smith said he hoped to do well this year but was not anticipating to repeat as the champion. Last year’s contest was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma.
But Smith, the executive chef at West Egg Café in west Midtown, placed second in the 2018 competition at this past weekend’s festival. Chef Liz Morris from Eagle Creek Brewing Co. in Statesboro won the title, and chef John Helfrich from Southern Soul Barbeque on nearby St. Simons Island finished third.
“I went down there with no real expectations that I was going to win it, so I was super thrilled to come in second,” the Canton resident said. “I think I know what the judges are looking for. This proves I’ve got a good dish and I’ve got what it takes (to succeed).”
Smith said he enjoyed competing in the contest and attending the festival for the second time. He took his father, Richard, and his son, Aidan, 10, with him.
“It was very familiar to me, and I felt very much welcomed back and very comfortable getting set up and getting ready for the competition,” Smith said. “I know quite a few people down there now and felt real good.”
The chef also said he was impressed with his opponents and their takes on shrimp and grits.
“All the other competitors were really great this year,” he said. “The presentation and the quality of each dish blew me away. I got to see most of them go by me because my table was the table closest to the judges’ tent. Each one looked amazing. Everybody should be very happy with the job they did. I’m looking forward to seeing that competition and the festival continue to grow.”
Jessica Scott, a spokeswoman for the Jekyll Island Authority, which hosts the festival, said, “There was a lot of excitement in the tent. It was fun. Chef Andrew is a very cool cucumber. He’s very calm and collected.”
Scott did not taste Smith’s shrimp and grits at this year’s event or in 2016, but she has had the dish at least once at West Egg.
“I wanted to but didn’t get to,” she said of the 2018 contest. “I am looking at the judges’ notes, and one of them said the egg on top was amazing. I’ll have to try it next time.”
Scott said the festival’s return was a big boost to the island after last year’s was washed out by Irma.
“Having that cancellation (in 2017) and the scare from Hurricane Florence (this year), there was a sense of relief and excitement for people to be back,” she said, adding this year’s event drew over 40,000. “Every person I chatted with throughout the weekend was excited to be back. We actually had some Hurricane Florence evacuees on the island. We collected donations for hurricane relief at our bars and festival gift tents.”