The annual Outer Banks Shrimp Cook-off all began one evening on the water.

But that’s how it goes with ideas isn’t it? Fresh air, a few open minds, and voila! You just never know what you might end up with.

“It was actually Donny King’s (owner/executive chef of Ocean Boulevard) idea,” says Jessica Taylor, executive director of the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research (OBXCDR).

“Donny, along with his wife Heather, my husband Jay, and local MC Christian Benedi used to get together and do a lot of sailing, On one Wednesday evening, Donny brought up the idea of hosting a fundraiser to benefit the dolphin research program. We thought that since no one at that point was doing a shrimp cook-off that it would be a good idea.”

Turns out the idea was more than good, it was great.

Now in it’s 9th year, the Shrimp Cook-Off, which is set for Nov. 4, not only benefits the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research, but it also pleases hundreds of palates with a wide array of cuisine and invites local chefs to put their best shrimp forward.

Tickets are $25. All proceeds from the ticket sales and silent auction sales benefit OBXCDR — the only local organization that focuses primarily on promoting the conservation of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins off the coast of the Outer Banks. The nonprofit has the only long-term research study on dolphins in the area, which is essential for understanding changes in the population and how dolphins use the Outer Banks environment.

At the Shrimp Cook-off, local chefs compete to prepare the best dish for: Chef’s Choice, People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice. While the concept may be simple, the flavors are complex.

Christian Benedi, a popular local musician and voice-over actor, will serve as the event’s master of ceremonies.

“The dishes really run the gamut,” Benedi says. “Dishes range from Asian-Pacific Rim to Italian and Cajun.

Last year’s winners brought their A-game:

  • Chef’s Choice: A tie between
  • Ocean Boulevard– Shrimp Arancini with Tomato Cream, Olives & Lemon (Shrimp in Saffron Risotto with Mozzarella & Fontina Cheese) and BJ’s! — Shrimp Etouffee over Cajun Rice
  • People’s Choice: Thai Style Shrimp with Lime Sauce & Green Mango Dragon Noodles
  • Judge’s Choice Beachside Bistro— Shrimp Dore over grilled Scallion-Parmesan Polenta with Applewood Smoked Tomato Butter

“It’s pretty hard to pass up on this event,” he says. “It’s not only exciting to help your friends but also your community. Part of the fun is getting up and announcing the winners.”

Ocean Boulevard Bistro & Martini Bar, an iconic Outer Banks eatery, acts as host of the event, and chefs are welcomed to set up inside and out. Wandering from table to table, it’s hard to decide what to try first or better yet even focus as the cool, salt air wafts off the ocean, mixing with the menagerie of scents coming from each table.

The event also includes a silent auction with donations from local businesses, drink specials, a 50/50 raffle, door prizes, and an outreach booth featuring conservation and research information about the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research.

“Every year, the event just gets better and better,” Benedi says. “The last two years, we’ve raised more money than in years before. Funding is always hard. The money raised helps with equipment maintenance, operation cost and fuel expenses.”

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