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Are you ready for a throwdown?

by Kathleen Walls


“Are you ready for a throwdown?” Those are the words every amateur chef dreams of hearing addressed to them by Food Network and Cooking Channel celebrity Chef Bobby Flay. Joe Barnett, a cook from Washington, is one Georgia chef who received this dream invitation.
Joe Barnett having fun

Barnett has been cooking since he was about 14. He loves to find the story behind a dish.One of his favorite dishes has a unique story. Georgia Cracker Crab Stew was invented in the tiny coastal Georgia town of Bells Bluff in the late 1950s. The little shrimping village had only one store. It was here, during an off-season storm, that the local shrimpers gathered to play pokpoker. At the height of the storm, the electricity went out leaving them with little to do, so they began to concoct a meal using what was available in the store. The store owner, an elderly woman fishing guide, contributed what she had in the freezer: some lump and claw crabmeat. Then each hand winner had touse his winnings and pick out something to add to the pot from the store's megar supplies. Since poker playing involves beer drinking, by the time the first six ingredients got added, everybody’s memory of the remaining ingredients was fuzzy. So there are lots of different versions. Barnett’s version is delicious.

“Cooking is a form of artistic expression for me,” he says. “Whenever I’m under [stress], I go home and start cooking something pretty.”

The dish that won Joe Barnett his fame, Shrimp and Cheese Grits

The dish that has earned him countless awards from the annual Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival is his Shrimp and Cheese Grits, an old-time favorite of cooks in the Low Country around Savannah and Charleston, S.C., dating back to the days before refrigeration when they would cook the freshly caught shrimp with the plentiful local grits. (for more on Shrimp and Grits see Table Talk)

It was this same dish that carried him into a television spot on the “Martha Stewart Show” in 2007. Barnett captivated the audience with comments like “Martha, darlin’, I promise you’re gonna love this. It’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, sugar.”
Apparently, Martha and her audience did love it. Barnett’s good-ol’ Southern boy charm backed up by his taste-of-heaven-in-a-bowl, otherwise known as Shrimp and Cheese Grits, also caught the attention of the producers of the “Throwdown With Bobby Flay” show, where locally known chefs are challenged to cook the dish they’re best known for in a cooking duel against celebrity chef Flay, who cooks a similar dish. Barnett’s challenge aired on Food Network in 2009.

During the filming of “Throwdown With Bobby Flay,” Joe Barnett, left, exchanges quips with Food Network celebrity Chef and “Throwdown” challenger Bobby Flay, center. After the judges’ vote, Barnett’s recipe beat out challenger Flay’s shrimp and grits dish.

From the minute Flay, wearing jeans and a cowboy shirt, and his assistants rolled into Washington in a vintage, metallic blue Chevrolet pickup truck and pulled up at The Court Street Livery where Barnett was preparing for what he thought was a Food Network special, Barnett went with the flow. Once he accepted the “Throwdown” challenge, he exchanged quips with Flay such as, “A New Yorker is going to cook grits?” and “Nobody’ll understand ya here.”

He kidded about his awards and offered to “loan” Flay his trophy. After the judges tasted Barnett’s
famous dish and Flay’s “challenger” shrimp and grits, Barnett emerged the winner. “Never bet on a New Yorker against a Southern boy when it comes to cooking grits,” he laughs.

Today Barnett cooks for fun, and he earns a living as a drapery maker. His business, Style South Drapery
Co., has been replicating the finest period drapes for more than 20 years. And since Washington is filled with antebellum homes, he keeps busy.

I wrote this article for Georgia Magazine where it was originally published but it deserves a repeat.

Following are some of Barnett’s favorite recipes.

Shrimp and Cheese Grits


1-1/2 pounds (26-30 count) Wild Georgia
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper


2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup quick grits
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3-1/2 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar


2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 slice sugar-cured country ham

Peel and devein shrimp. In a small bowl, combine Cajun seasoning, paprika, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle spice mixture over shrimp to coat well; set the shrimp aside.

For the grits: In a medium saucepan, bring water, chicken bouillon cubes and 2 tablespoons butter to a
boil. Slowly add grits, whisking often with wire whisk for 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, cream and cheese. Keep whisking for another 2 or 3 minutes until grits become creamy. Note: Joe says, “Don’t skimp on the butter and the cream, folks.”

For sauce: In a large sauté pan, melt 2 tbs of butter. Add minced garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
Add in the spice-coated shrimp, and cook only until they’re just done and tender; don’t overcook. Remove shrimp from sauté pan and set them aside in a bowl. To the drippings left from the
shrimp in the sauté pan, add 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and stir with a wooden spatula to make a roux. Cook, stirring, for 10 to 15 minutes until roux reaches a medium-tan color, then slowly add chicken stock and heavy whipping cream. Whisk together and cook for 2 minutes, then whisk in Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Set aside.

In separate sauté pan, cook 1 center slice of cured country ham until heated; cut into cubes.

To serve, place a few heaping spoonfuls of steaming cheese grits onto a plate, top with several sizzling
shrimp. Drizzle roux sauce over top of shrimp, and sprinkle on a few cubes of country ham. Serves 15.
Prep Time: 30 minutes; ready in: 30 minutes.

Joe’s Low Country Boil

15 quarts fresh water
24 ounces chicken base (or chicken stock)
Creole Spice Mix (recipe follows)
4 pounds small new potatoes (size AA)
12 ears corn, shucked, silks removed, halved
4 pounds Hillshire Farms “Polish Kielbasa”
(not smoked), cut into pieces 5 pounds headless, shell-on fresh Wild
Georgia shrimp

Bring water to a rapid boil and add chicken base (or stock) and let cook for 4 minutes. Add 1 whole recipe worth of Creole Spice Mix. Let cook for 4 minutes more. Add potatoes and stir. Let come back to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Add corn and let boil for 7 minutes.
Add sausage and let boil for 5 minutes more. Add shrimp, return to boil, then turn heat off. Put lid on pot and let sit for 12-15 minutes. Note: It is very important to let sit.

Creole Spice Mix

2-1/4 tablespoons sweet paprika 3-1/2 tablespoons Lawry’s Seasoning Salt 2-1/2 tablespoons garlic powder 1-1/2 tablespoons fresh cracked black
pepper 1-1/2 tablespoons onion powder 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper 1 tablespoon dried oregano 2 tablespoons dried Italian seasonings 1-1/2 tablespoons chipotle powder
Mix all ingredients and store in a seal-top plastic baggie until needed.

Remoulade Sauce

2 large eggs
1 cup chopped onion (Vidalia or best sweet onion on the market)
1 cup chopped green onion (green parts only)
1-1/2 cups chopped celery (include leaves and cut 3 inches up from base)
1-1/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
3 tablespoons Creole mustard
3 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
4 tablespoons Heinz ketchup
4 tablespoons ciilantro, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
2 tablespoons Tone’s Cajun seasoning (from Sam’s Club)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning and salad dressing mix (dry)
1 cup buttermilk
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 cup vegetable oil or canola oil

In a large mixer or food processor, combine the first 15 items on the list. Note: You may have to add a couple of ingredients and mix them before adding additional ingredients, to prevent overflowing the mixer/processor. When last ingredient is added, blend until smooth and then blend for an extra minute.
Add lemon juice and blend for 30 more seconds. Slowly add vegetable oil. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure everything is well blended.

Pour into a container with a seal and store on middle shelf in refrigerator overnight. Take it out and check consistency by stirring with a wooden spoon. Keep in refrigerator until needed. It will keep several weeks, but always stir it very well before you pour or use it. Note: This sauce goes well with crab cakes and other seafood, and on sandwiches or burgers.

Apple and Buttered Rum Cheesecake

1-1/2 cups Pecan Sandies cookies,
crushed fine 4 tablespoons melted butter 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted pecans

24 ounces softened cream cheese 1 cup light brown sugar 3 tablespoons apple schnapps 3 large eggs and 1 yolk, divided

2 (11-ounce) packages Stouffer’s Harvest
Apples 1/4 cup dark brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon butter rum extract 2 tablespoons heavy cream 1 tablespoon butter 1/4 cup apple juice 2 tablespoons Myers’s dark rum 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
Prepare crust by crushing cookies and mixing crumbs with 4 tablespoons melted butter and finely chopped pecans. Press into bottom of 9-inch cheesecake pan. Place pan in 350 oven and bake crust for 8-9 minutes. Remove and cool.
To prepare filling, combine cream cheese and brown sugar in bowl. Mix with electric mixer until fluffy, about 6-7 minutes. Scrape down sides. Add apple schnapps and 1 egg. Mix again and gradually add remaining eggs and extra yolk in separate steps.
Pour cheesecake filling over cooled crust. Wrap aluminum foil around the bottom and up the sides of cheesecake pan to make it waterproof. Set pan in middle of a larger pan and place in oven. Fill larger pan with water until it comes up halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Set oven temperature to 375 degrees and cook cheesecake for 1 hour, then lower oven temperature to 325 degrees and cook additional 20 minutes. Carefully remove pans from oven and let cake cool. Remove cheesecake from pan and chill in refrigerator overnight.

To make topping, prepare harvest apples according to label instructions; set aside. In a saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter rum extract, heavy cream, butter and apple juice; bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. After 5 minutes, add Myers’s rum and cook for additional 3 minutes. Add pecans and apples and stir; remove from heat and let cool. Slice cheesecake and spoon topping over the top.

For more info:

About Washington, GA--

About Joe Barnett--

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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