BEDFORD — A borough chef hopes bottom feeders rise to the top in a national seafood competition on Aug. 6 in New Orleans.
Mandisa Horn, owner of Horn O Plenty restaurant in Bedford, will be competing against 13 chefs from across the country as part of the 18th Annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off.
But because Bedford is so far from the ocean, Horn decided to focus on a closer waterway, the Chesapeake Bay, which gets 40% of its water from Pennsylvania.
“I get a chance to explain why I made the dish, and I thought I would use that to bring awareness to the efforts made to clean up PA watersheds because they end up in the Chesapeake,” she said.
From that she decided the main focus in her recipes would be bottom feeders, which include crab, shrimp and all shellfish.
“They help clean and they help filter the water, they are the first ones to tell us if it is polluted,” Horn said.
She even used duck because they have an important role in watersheds by killing off invasive species and making new waterways for other fish and bottom feeders.
In the meantime, Horn has been traveling to Annapolis, Md., to talk with fish mongers, collecting ingredients and practicing.
Her experience with seafood is when someone would bring something back from vacation or if salespeople from Baltimore would stop by the restaurant with crabs.
The fish she tends to work with for the restaurant are trout or catfish found locally.
“I’m just trying to hone it in because I’m not that familiar with seafood, so I feel like an underdog going into this,” she said. “However, I’m super stoked about it, I’m going to try really hard and represent PA well.”
Horn was selected for the contest by Lt. gov. John Fetterman.
The recipes she has prepared for the competition include: ramp pasta with clam sauce, crab mushroom seafood chowder and seaweed salad with black garlic and mustard shrimp glaze.
“Our state is also known for mushrooms, so I’m taking PA mushrooms with me which are also bottom feeders of the forest,” Horn said.
All of the equipment and ingredients has to be sent to New Orleans before the competition starts, because the chefs must be self-sustaining, she said.
“It’s a national cooking competition and it’s a pretty big deal,” Horn said.
On Aug. 6, participants have one hour to prepare their recipes for four judges, who are also chefs, who will decide the king or queen of American Seafood.
“We really have so much talent here in Bedford, and we are just really proud to see Mandi represent her home,” Tina Pittman, officer manager at the Bedford County Visitors Bureau said.
Horn is not sure if there was a prize for winning, but just being there to represent her home is a great opportunity, she said.
Carla Kagarise, who has worked with Horn for nine years, will be her sous-chef.
“It is a serious competition, it is an honor to be asked to do something like that,” Kagarise said.
She does a little bit of everything at the restaurant including being a waitress, human resources manager, scheduler and now sous-chef.
Horn developed the recipes and then Kagarise helped her hone them in.
Being new to the kitchen, Kagarise is also picking up more skills.
“I’m a server and tend to run the front of the house, I’ve been in the kitchen a lot more recently learning new skills,” Kagarise said.
Kellie Goodman-Shaffer, director of the Bedford County Chamber of Commerce, said Horn is a wonderful cook and leader in the community.
“If people get to see what we do here and respect it from what Mandi does, that’s really great for the area and state as a whole,” she said.
Horn is excited to see New Orleans and looking forward to meeting all the bosses.
“Talking with them is going to be cool because they’re from all over the country, and I hear they are doing some really cool stuff,” she said.
Horn said what she is most nervous about is the pressure and not knowing her surroundings.
“I want to perform well, and I can’t see the set up until the day of competition,” she said.
Horn said Horn O Plenty, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, now has a new pavilion for guests to eat outside and available to rent for parties.
“We have a great summer menu going on, if I happen to win this competition, you bet the recipes will be featured on there,” she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Cati Keith can be reached at 814-946-7535.