The first 30A Seafood Throwdown Saturday at Pandora's at Grayton Beach is being held to benefit fisheries and artificial reefs through Global Fish Aid.
The event begins at 2 p.m. Saturday with eight of the area's top chefs competing in a cookoff for awards and bragging rights as the first Savor South Walton Champions. Judging the competition will be a panel of pre-selected judges, said Brandon Montalto, Pandora's general manager. Throwdown is from 3 to 5 p.m. Visit South Walton will award the first set of “Savor South Walton” Champion Awards to the winning chefs and restaurants for both the Critic’s Choice Award and the People’s Choice Award at 6 p.m.
The eight chefs will have 25 minutes to cook their best dish before presenting it to be judged.
For a $35 donation, attendees can enjoy door prizes, free food of red snapper and shrimpl, and live music by two bands until midnight.
Competing chefs will include: Dan Vargo of Seagar's; David Cunningham of The V Seagrove; Michael Guerra of The Pearl; Chris Mack of Pandora's; Phil McDonald of Table 5; Jim Richard of Stinky's; Oliver Petit of The Red Bar; and Ryan Montalto of Pranzo's.
The bands will be Horizon and members of The Revivalists with Khris Royal and Eric Vogel.
The driving force behind this event is Andy McAlexander, who has started the non-profit South Walton Artificial Reef Association to fund placing artificial reefs off Walton's beaches.
McAlexander said Destin has a pass with artificial reefs that Destinites enjoy, but South Walton does not.
"Ninety-five percent of our water is barren sand floor. I thought it would be great if we helped build reefs close enough to shore so all people could access it and give people an opportunity to experience it," he said.
McAlexander explained that the artificial reefs, constructed of concrete and Florida limestone, simulate coral reefs. Fish and sea turtles congregate around them, providing natural habitat.
The reef McAlexander envisions will be located less than a mile off shore for easy access by kayaking or paddling for snorkeling and diving, and has an 8-foot base and is 8-feet tall.
McAlexander has enjoyed snorkeling and diving since age 14 at places from Hawaii to the Caribbean. In the 13 years he has lived in South Walton, he usually goes to the St. Joe Bay area to enjoy his sport, even though he said Escambia County has had snorkel reefs for years.
"With our crystal clear water, it will be unique to have a place to do that closer," he said.
The project is not cheap with a projected cost of $100,000 for a snorkel reef. A near shore reef would cost several hundred thousands.
McAlexander is undeterred, however, as he says the project has public support from businesses and individuals. Those who donate can get a plaque with their name on it.
"I have been amazed at the immediate response," he said.
McAlexander has made application for funding and matching grants on the local, state, and federal level. He believes the funding will come through and the project will be underway next year.
Tickets can be purchased for the inaugural 30A Seafood Throwdown at http://pandorasgraytonbeach.ticketbud.com/30a-throwdown.