Seafood Queen: Sola chef first woman to win state seafood competition

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Chef Erika Lipe, owner of Sola Oxford, was named the winner of the Mississippi Seafood Cookoff in Gulfport on Friday, becoming the first-ever Queen of Mississippi Seafood.

Lipe had 50 minutes to prepare her first-place dish at the competition, using only two portable burners and a couple of blenders. With her sous chef Turner McClendon by her side, the two prepared a lane snapper with a crispy skin and basted with brown butter.

The snapper was served with cast-iron skillet-fried green tomatoes with a tarragon buttermilk dressing. On top of the snapper, they created “crab chili,” a mix of sweet potato hot sauce with sweet bell peppers and Calabrian chilies.

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“Just a good mix of sweet, spicy, savory, bright orange things that we mixed with the crab,” Lipe said. “We worked really hard to balance the flavors and get it all together and we wanted to incorporate some really Mississippi things.”

Erika Lipe, owner of Sola Oxford, works with her sous chef Turner McClendon in food preparation on their way to win the Mississippi Seafood Cookoff. (Screenshot)

Lipe will move on to the Great American Seafood Cook-off in August in New Orleans, representing Mississippi, along with her hometown of Batesville and Oxford, where she opened her first restaurant in 2014. Originally named the Wine Bar, she re-branded and reopened the restaurant as Sola Oxford in 2019.

Lipe said becoming the first woman to win the state title was exactly what motivated her to join the competition. “When I found out about the competition, I said ‘in 20 years of the cook-off, there has not been a single woman who won it?’” she explained. “So I was like, alright, I’m going to give this a shot.”

Lipe graduated from South Panola High School and then went on to pursue an art degree in Memphis. While she loved art, she realized she wasn’t going to make a living that way.

She got a job back home in Batesville at a restaurant called Capers in 2005, where she “fell in love” with cooking; however, she was no stranger to being around kitchens and good cooking. “I had worked in sandwich shops when I was in high school and my mother had a little coffee shop-lunch bistro on the Square in Batesville called Java Jive,” she said. “I used to work there after school.

“I came from a cliché Southern family that farmed and cured meat and owned grocery stores and had a lot of folks for Sunday lunch, so it has always been second nature to me.”