Paul Turano had always enjoyed watching and reading about the Great American Seafood Cook-Off , which is held annually in New Orleans. But over the years, he realized that Massachusetts didn’t have much of a representation, if any.
Which he found surprising: This is, after all, the home of clam chowder, fresh lobster, haddock, and the reality TV show “Wicked Tuna.”
So he decided to give it a try.
Turan, the owner of Tryst restaurant in Arlington and the future Cook restaurant in Newton, has been nominated by Governor Deval Patrick to compete alongside 15 other chefs from around the country in the 10th installment of the cook-off, taking place Saturday at the Big Easy’s Morial Convention Center .
“My game plan is to just cook everything properly, present it on a really nice plate, and showcase New England seafood,” said the 38-year-old father of two, who lives in Canton.
Every year, the event draws chefs prepared to showcase their state’s domestic seafood — whether it’s Louisiana’s legendary catfish, inlet clams from Florida, or wild rockfish from Delaware.
Their dishes are scrutinized by a panel of six judges from around the country, and the winner is crowned king (or queen) of American seafood.
‘My game plan is to just cook everything properly, present it on a really nice plate, and showcase New England seafood.’
Each contestant has to be nominated by their state’s governor.
Last year’s winner was Gregory Gourdet, chef at the Departure Restaurant and Lounge in Portland, Ore., who offered up his state’s official fish — Chinook salmon — slow-cooked and served with butter clams, bacon dashi, pickled porcini, roasted heirloom tomatoes, and crisped sea greens, according to the event’s website (www.greatamericanseafoodcookoff.com).
But as far as Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, is concerned, the coveted title should be an easy catch for Turano.
She described his menus, preparation, and presentation as renowned in her entry letter, and added that “to save time, you might as well award the crown to Chef Turano, who is sure to win the competition.”
She wrote that Massachusetts, with its “very vibrant” fishing industry, takes seafood “very seriously.”
Yet since 2008, only three chefs from New England have participated in the cook-off, and all were from Maine. This year, the region will also be represented by chef Rizwan Ahmed of Hourglass Brasserie in Bristol, R.I.
Turano plans to offer up a summertime lobster salad drizzled with his variation on tartar sauce, accompanied by sweet corn pudding with fava beans, and fried stuffed oysters served inside a squash blossom.
The idea is to create a “spin on seafood salad,” and have the dish “really screaming summer,” he said.
He and his competitors will have only one hour to prepare their dishes on Saturday.
“I love fish,” said Turano. “I like simple fish presentations.”
Still, he stresses that, throughout his cooking, he likes to mix it up. “I try not to pigeon-hole myself into any style,” he said.
He described himself growing up in Stoughton as a “chubby little kid” who liked to eat (and still does), watched Julia Child and Jeff Smith (“The Frugal Gourmet”), and regularly cooked up pork chops, chicken cutlets, and homemade French fries.
“It’s all I ever wanted to do,” he said. “I knew this was going to be my career path since I was 5 years old. I’ve always loved to surround myself with food, and now I do it for a living.”
After receiving his degree in culinary arts from Newbury College in 1995, Turano worked at various country clubs, then for a time ran the 30-seat bistro Olio in Canton.
His next venture, the 80-seat Cook, is set to open within a few weeks.
All told, he said, “fresh, seasonal scratch cooking is my passion.
“I don’t like to pull things out of bags. I like to do it from scratch, I like to deal with the raw product.”