Last weekend I had the pleasure of covering the second annual Cocoa Beach Uncorked for The Daily Meal. (Read my article here.) I also got to serve as a judge for its Chef Competition, something I’ve only dreamt of doing. When I told my mom that the festival asked me to serve as a judge, she said, “Oh my gosh! Like Nancy Fuller?!” What an honor! But we’ll get back to that. Get ready because I took approximately one million photos at this event!
Cocoa Beach Uncorked is one of the best food events I’ve attended. It’s held about 50 minutes east of Orlando on Florida’s Space Coast. I had never heard of the “Space Coast” until this event. For those not native to the area, the term “Space Coast” refers to 72 miles of Atlantic coastline including Cocoa Beach, Melbourne, Port Canaveral, Titusville, Palm Bay, and Viera. It’s held right on the beach and attracts some of the friendliest people you’ll meet outside of Texas!
I took my sister-in-law Heather, who snapped many of these gorgeous photos, as my plus one. We arrived on Friday night before the two-day festival and checked in at Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront. (Read my review here.) The next day we drove just a mile up the road (technically, we could have walked) and saw the gorgeous white tent of Cocoa Beach Uncorked.
We arrived early for the judging of the Cocoa Beach Uncorked Chef Competition on Saturday morning. I sat at a panel with a local news anchor, DJ, the editor of a magazine, and a chef. We were brought one dish at a time and were given a sheet on which to score dishes from 1-5 by taste, aroma, and presentation. The dish with the highest total score would win the competition.
One of my favorite entries was by Chef Justin of Playalinda Brewing Co: a new take on steak and eggs. Chef Justin served us a quail egg, pancake foam (I’m a sucker for a good foam), maple vinaigrette, and bacon jam. It was so fun and creative. The pancake foam melted in your mouth and screamed breakfast. The delicious bacon jam is available on their burger at the restaurant if you want to try it for yourself.
Another favorite dish in the food competition was Chef Ryan’s entry for Bonefish Grill: diver scallops with corn, chorizo, and polenta cakes. This featured corn in three ways: the creamed corn sauce, corn relish, and corn cake finished with a spicy crawfish creole sauce.
The winning dish was absolutely out of this world. Stay with me, because if I read this description or saw this dish on TV, I would roll my eyes but I’m here to tell you: this is one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. Chef Jeff of Rising Tide served Landseair Sangria, a perfectly cooked scallop with juniper berries, peppercorns, carpaccio, sorbet, and strawberry dust. Strawberry dust! I know it sounds bizarre but the dish tasted like fairies prepared it. It was unlike anything I’d ever eaten before. I wrote on The Daily Meal that I felt like I was eating the future of food and I mean that as a compliment.
After the Chef Competition, we were free to roam around. We also had access to the VIP lounge, which is the way to go when buying tickets because otherwise there isn’t really seating at the event. The VIP lounge has oversized inflatable couches to curl up on and watch the waves as you nosh and drink and nosh and drink. Not a shabby way to spend Saturday!
There were about fifty exhibitors at the event. Some of my favorite dishes were tuna poke from Fishlips Waterfront Bar and Grill (in fact I loved this poke so much that we went there for dinner on Sunday to order even more poke), Tequila Azul’s scratch-made guacamole, Playalinda Brewing Co’s pork belly with fig jam, Playalinda Brewing Co’s beer cheese dip, Playalinda Brewing Co’s shrimp and scallop ceviche, and Coasters Taphouse’s watermelon gazpacho with tomato, roasted bell pepper, grilled zucchini, basil, and crab. Yum!
Cocoa Beach Uncorked is a shoes-optional event. In fact, Uncorked offers a shoe check instead of a coat check. Maybe that’s normal for beach events but this landlocked Texan was impressed! My brother would have loved the 1980s playlist that gave Cocoa Beach Uncorked the coolest feel.
There were several smoked fish spreads available, something I definitely never see at home. They were delicious! We watched a chef make one during a cooking demo and we got to take home a recipe, so I might just have to give it a try.
There were tons of wine, rum, beer, and even bourbon vendors eager to give you a taste. I am not a flavored wine fan in general but Keel and Curley converted me. This tasted like someone left a strawberry popsicle melting in a glass of Riesling in the summer sun. Delicious!
Also, I have to comment on this ridiculously practical wine glass lanyard, allowing one to sample wine hands free.
One of the most popular and longest lines at Cocoa Beach Uncorked was for Tequiponch. I am steadfastly not a tequila fan but I have to say, this was one of my favorite drinks at Cocoa Beach!
The two-day afternoon event closes in time for dinner and the area of Cocoa Beach is really cute. One night we hung out on the beach at our hotel, took a dip in the ocean, and chilled at Longboard’s tiki bar. Before the festival on Sunday we enjoyed adorable mini golf at Golf-N-Gator, ate poke on the river at Fishlips, popped into Ron Jon’s surf shop, and saw Infinity War at a local theater because priorities. There’s lots to do on Cocoa Beach and I’m already counting down the days to next year’s Uncorked!
For more information, visit http://cocoabeachuncorked.com/cocoa/.
Disclaimer: Travel expenses were provided by Florida’s Space Coast. Tickets were provided by Cocoa Beach Uncorked. Opinions are my own.