Georgia’s Best Shrimp & Grits

The annual Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival is a quintessentially Southern, one-of-a-kind tradition celebrating one of Georgia’s most-beloved dishes: shrimp and grits. In 2016, we raised the bar, and took the cooking competition state-wide. Chefs from top restaurants around the state battled it out in a professional cooking competition for the title of “Georgia’s Best Shrimp & Grits.”

Despite Hurricane Irma’s interruption in 2017, the Georgia’s Best tradition will return for 2018: We’re looking for the best shrimp & grits dish in Georgia! Professional chefs from all over the state are returning to compete for the title, “Georgia’s Best Shrimp & Grits 2018” at the Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival.

Festival Cooking Competition

Saturday, September 15: 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Jekyll Island is pleased to welcome back the 2017 regional winners – who didn’t get the chance to compete, no thanks to Hurricane Irma – to vie for the title in 2018. Talented teams from these restaurants around the state will compete in a blind judging on-site at the Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival Saturday, September 15. Good luck!

Atlanta Metro: Sweet Potato Cafe
Classic South: Honey Cafe
The Coast: Southern Soul Barbecue
Historic Heartland: Aubri Lane’s
Magnolia Midlands: Eagle Creek Brewing Company
Plantation Trace: The LOCAL kitchen:bar
Defending Champion: West Egg Cafe

Winners of the 2018 Cooking Competition


Cooking competition winners will receive:


The full judging panel for the Georgia’s Best Shrimp & Grits cooking competition is still in the works, but Jekyll Island is excited to have Henna Bakshi confirmed for 2018. Check back soon as additional judges are revealed!

Henna Bakshi

Henna BakshiHenna Bakshi is a journalist at CNN/HLN and runs a food and lifestyle Instagram blog called @ATLRooftops. She has vast culinary experience, including having hosted and produced her own cooking show, “Around the World in $40” on HLN. She returns as a judge for the festival.

Born and raised in New Delhi, Henna learned to cook from her mother who taught her how to use India’s vast collection of exotic spices. Now in Atlanta, Henna continues to cook with a blend of Indian and American flavors. She is a strong supporter of local farmers markets, and continually encourages the use of fresh ingredients.

Henna and her husband Andy explore Atlanta’s rooftop food scene together and are avid influencers with their instagram blog, also having written for Atlanta Eats about the city’s latest food trends.

In addition to creating food-related content for air at CNN and HLN, Henna has produced entertainment pieces including a package with Amy Schumer about her new movie “I Feel Pretty” and interviewed Miles Teller about his movie “Thank You for Your Service.”

When she is not cooking or filming, Henna enjoys hiking the North Georgia mountains and spending time with her family, usually all over a cup of tea.

For more information on Henna’s work, please visit

Kenny Gilbert

Chef Kenny GilbertCooking since he could barely reach the kitchen counter at age three, Chef Kenny Gilbert is best known for his appearance on “Top Chef” Season seven, where he displayed big personality and instantly become one of the most likable cheftestants to date.

Born and raised in suburban Cleveland, Kenny’s curiosity for the kitchen started young.  His mom noticed how captivated her son was when she cooked or entertained and so in an effort to harness it, began teaching him the basics. Kenny’s father, an avid BBQ man, schooled him in the ways of the grill, including homemade sauces and rubs, presenting him with his very own small Weber at the age of seven.  By age 11 Kenny was cooking the entire Thanksgiving dinner solo, and in high school, was cooking for his entire swim team, before and after practice and meets on a portable electric double burner in the locker room.  Cooking had been in Kenny’s blood from day one and so, while still in high school, he enrolled in a local vocational culinary program.

After high school, Kenny attended The Pennsylvania Culinary Institute where he received a degree in Culinary Arts. Upon graduation, Kenny relocated to Jacksonville, FL, where he joined The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company as an apprentice in the garde manger kitchen of their Amelia Island property.  Kenny worked his way up to Chef de Cuisine at the age of 23 at the Ritz, helping to consistently secure the AAA Five Diamond Award for the property throughout his tenure there.

After a two year stint in Naples, FL, opening Caxambas, a members-only fine dining establishment in the Fiddler’s Creek development, Kenny landed in Sea Island, Georgia where he served as Executive Chef, overseeing all four dining concepts at The Lodge Sea Island Golf Resort.  During his tenure at The Lodge, Kenny had the opportunity to cook for the G8 summit while President Bush was in office.  After Sea Island, Kenny returned to the Ritz-Carlton family, taking the position of Executive Chef at their Jupiter, FL location. It was then onto Telluride, Colorado, where he led the culinary team at The Inn at Lost Creek, one of Conde Nast’s Top 40 Resorts in the US – Kenny would then join the opening team for the new luxury boutique hotel, Capella, under West Paces Hotel Group.

While working in Colorado, Kenny learned of the open casting call for Bravo’s “Top Chef” season seven.  He auditioned and made the cut.  While he didn’t take home the winning title in DC, he did well in the competition and impressed the judges with his skills and finesse.

After “Top Chef,” Kenny landed back in Jacksonville, FL, where he designed and opened Caribbean-inspired Nippers Beach Grill.  Within one year of opening, Folio Magazine awarded Kenny Chef of the Year, and Nippers, Best Caribbean Restaurant.  Next up, Kenny made his way to Miami where he served as Corporate Chef for 50 Eggs Restaurant Group and was responsible for organizing and designing the future kitchens and infrastructure for James Beard recognized concepts like Yardbird, Khong River House and Swine.  After Miami, Kenny headed back to the turquoise water and sandy beaches of the Caribbean, working as the Executive Chef at Bajan Blue at Sandy Lane Resort in Barbados (the famous internationally themed restaurant grosses over $10 million in sales annually).

Kenny is also a consultant for MIC Food, an international company based out of Miami that produces organic tropical packaged goods like Plantains and Yuca, while also lending his expertise to the menu at Boston neighborhood restaurant, Tempo American Bistro.

Over the years, Kenny has developed a passion for herbs and spices, and has paired that passion with his culinary prowess to create Chef Kenny’s Spice Blends, a line of spice blends with equally big personality. The product line, which includes Jerk Spice, Raging Cajun and Cinnamon Coffee Rub, is used by luxury hotel brands including The Lodge at Sea Island Company and the Omni Amelia Island Hotel and Resort. The line of spice blends is also available for purchase at

Todd Richards

Chef Todd Richards

Chef Todd Richards is an award-winning chef known for his contemporary cooking style rooted in Soul and Southern cuisine. A native of Chicago and self-taught chef, he was named a 2008 and 2013 Semifinalist for James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southeast. Richards is the chef and owner of Richards’ Southern Fried and the Culinary Director of Jackmont Hospitality, overseeing award-winning restaurants One Flew South and Chicken + Beer in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

He has previously helmed the kitchens of prestigious hotels and restaurants including The Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, The Ritz-Carlton (Atlanta, Buckhead and West Palm Beach), Villa Christina and the Oakroom at the Seelbach Hotel, which garnered the prestigious AAA 5 Diamond Award for restaurant excellence under his tenure. Richards has served as chef/owner of The Shed at Glenwood, The Pig & The Pearl, Rolling Bones Barbecue, White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails and (currently) Richards’ Southern Fried. He is an active Board Member of Wholesome Wave Georgia, the Southern Foodways Alliance and is a founding council member of the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.

Esquire Magazine named him Best Chef to Watch in 2011, Thrillist named him among Best Chefs in Atlanta in 2016 and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution named chef Richards’ most recent restaurant, Richards’ Southern Fried, among the Best New Restaurants of 2017. Chef Richards’ cookbook, “SOUL: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes,” published by Time Inc., Oxmoor House Books, was released on May 22, 2018.

Master of Ceremonies

Matthew Raiford

CheFarmer Matthew RaifordCheFarmer Matthew Raiford wears many hats. Most recently, he again donned his ‘toque blanche’ as the owner and executive chef of the newly-opened Brunswick, Georgia restaurant, Strong Roots Provisions – serving Port City food with jazz, rhythm and blues. His first restaurant, The Farmer and the Larder (opened 2016), was featured in Garden & Gun as one of the South’s most exciting new restaurants.

Raiford recently served as Program Coordinator and Associate Professor of Culinary Arts at the College of Coastal Georgia, is the former executive chef at Little St. Simon’s Resort. He and his family own and operate Gilliard Farms, where he is the sixth generation to farm the land since 1874. First established by great, great, great grandfather Jupiter, Gilliard is a certified organic farm growing under Matthew’s watchful eye with his sister, Althea.

Raiford holds a Bachelor of Professional Studies degree in culinary arts from the CIA in Hyde Park, New York. He is a certified ecological horticulturalist (University of California Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems).

He was named a James Beard semi-finalist: Best Chef in the Southeast, 2018.