Recipes by Chef DeMarco Carlton
Photos by Dan Austin
Food Styling by Keila Rivera
Prop Styling by Hannah Fenclau

Summer is here, and it is all about fish, shrimp, and even the seafood boil. In the next few pages, Chef DeMarco Carlton shares his modern approach to southern cuisine.

There is something special about summer seafood in the South. For these recipes, we are merging the love of the South and seafood together. 

Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, with family in Polk County, Executive Chef DeMarco Carlton spent his childhood between these two southern cities surrounded by fresh seafood and southern cuisine. “Cooking was a part of my life growing up, from my grandmother, mother, and father – they were all talented cooks who inspired me to do what I do,” says Chef Carlton. 

Modelo Especial is a rich, full-flavored pilsner lager that pairs perfectly with dish.

Carlton’s career spans some of Lakeland’s most prestigious dining experiences, from The Terrace Hotel to his current role as Executive Chef at The Lakeland Country Club. For him, it’s the blend between his classical training as a Chef and his roots where he allows his creativity to shine in some ways. “…to recreate southern comfort food into fine dining experiences is special because people enjoy this modern approach more than expected,” explains Carlton.

Like every other form of art, the culinary arts have evolved over time. In the past decade, chefs worldwide have found new ways to enjoy southern cuisine – one of them being through fine dining experiences. These culinary developments don’t forsake the past by any measure; instead, they give it the recognition it deserves in the present.

We hope this spring/summer you enjoy these elevated-traditional southern seafood dishes.

Jumbo Shrimp with Cajun Grits and Tasso Gravy 


For the shrimp:
4 jumbo shrimp
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Salt to taste

For the gravy:
1/4 cup diced Tasso Ham
1 teaspoon freshly minced garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeños
2 laurel leaves
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

For the grits:
2 cups Carolina Gold Stone ground grits
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups water
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste 


For the shrimp, combine the smoked paprika, cayenne, granulated coriander garlic, dried thyme, and salt. Season the shrimp with the ingredients listed above and sauté for 5-7 minutes or until the shrimp are done. Remove shrimp and set aside. 

For the gravy, in the same pan; add butter Tasso ham, fresh garlic, chopped jalapeños, and Laurel leaves. Singer with flour, add milk and bring to a boil, stir and add diced tomatoes and fresh parsley.

For the grits, add stone-ground grits, butter, salt, and pepper to boiling water. Cook for 1 hour or until grits are soft. Arrange shrimp on top of the Grits, then add gravy. Adjust flavor to desired taste and serve.

Pan-seared Halibut with Chinese black rice pilaf, tomato ragout, and charred French beans


For the Pan-seared Halibut:
6 oz fresh wild-caught halibut
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Plugra unsalted butter
4 sprigs of fresh dill

For the Black Rice Pilaf:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 fine shallot dice
1 1/2 cups Chinese black rice
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 1/2 cups & 1 teaspoon of broth or stock (veggie or chicken)
1 tablespoon minced fresh Garlic
1 laurel leaf
2 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste 

For the Tomato Ragout:
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot fine diced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cloves minced garlic
3 pints cherry tomatoes halved
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup julienned basil

For the Charred French Beans:
1 lb french green beans (trimmed)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper to taste


For the Pan-Seared Halibut:
Pat halibut fillets dry. Sprinkle them on both sides with salt and pepper. 

Over medium-high, prepare a heavy pan with olive oil, and one tablespoon of Plugra unsalted butter is melted but not browned; then turn the heat down to low. Place the fillets in the pan and cook for about 4 minutes. Don’t move the fillets until they’re ready to flip. Use a thin metal spatula to test the fish, they should release themselves from the pan by gently shaking them. If you can slide the spatula under the fish without the fish sticking to the pan, it’s ready to flip. If the fillets won’t release, give them another 30 seconds. They’ll release when they’ve finished cooking.

After flipping, divide the remaining 1 tablespoon Plugra over both fillets. Cook fish for another 2-3 minutes until done. Fish will be golden on both the top and bottom and opaque all the way through when done. Transfer the fish to plates, pouring the remaining butter over the fish. 

For the Tomato Ragout:
Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add garlic and shallots, stirring until golden and fragrant, about 4 -5 minutes. Add rice and thyme; saute for 3-4 minutes. Add stock and Laurel leaf. Bring to a simmer. Cover, turn heat to low, and cook 35-40 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated and rice is tender—season with salt and pepper to your desired taste. Garnish with parsley.

For the Tomato Ragout:
Heat a pan over high heat, add olive oil and allow to warm for a few seconds. Add shallots and fresh thyme, cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, and heavy cream. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until tomatoes have softened and juice is released. Add balsamic and fresh basil simmering for another 8 minutes—season to taste with smoked Himalayan sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.

For the Charred French Beans:
Coat green beans in olive oil. Heat a large pan on high heat, add green beans. Spread green beans out in a single layer and cook for 3 minutes.

Turn green beans and cook for 1 minute. Lower heat to medium and add garlic, cook green beans and garlic for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to desired taste. 

Broiled Stuffed Unicornfish


2 pounds Unicornfish fillets
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons Coleman’s dry mustard
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 cup of Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup finely chopped baby shrimp
1/4 cup lobster claw meat
1/4 cup crab claw meat
1/2 cup double egg mayonnaise,
1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
Salt and pepper to taste


Season fish with salt and pepper. Over high heat, quickly sear fillets for 1 minute on each side. Remove from heat and reserve the fish on a grease broiler pan. 

In that same hot pan, add the remaining tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, sauté the shallots, fresh garlic, and tarragon until translucent (be careful not to burn the garlic). Add the baby shrimp and sauté for two minutes, then add all cooked claw meat, lobster, and shrimp. Deglaze the pan with white wine. 

Add remaining ingredients to a mixing bowl and add seafood mixture. Mix thoroughly, adjust salt and pepper to desired taste. Layer mixture over the fish, bake for 8 minutes at 425° or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Spiced Apples in Cast Iron with Caramel Crème & Shortbread Crumble

Pair this traditional dessert with an after-dinner sip, such as cognac.


3/4 cups diced Braeburn apples (peeled)
8 ea Ceylon cinnamon sticks
1 cup lemongrass tea
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon allspice
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 French vanilla bean


In a heavy cast-iron skillet, combine diced Braeburn apples, Ceylon cinnamon sticks, lemongrass tea, ground ginger, and heavy cream. Bring saucepan ingredients to a rolling boil and reduce them by half, set aside, and reserve.

Add flour, allspice, softened butter, and 1/4 cup granulated sugar to a medium-sized bowl and mix well. Drop quarter-size pieces over apple mixture and bake until golden brown at 375* or 15 minutes. Serve warm with French vanilla ice cream.