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Fish Factor

Alaska seafood a favorite in Great American Seafood Cook Off
By Laine Welch


August 16, 2006

The Great American Seafood Cook Off is designed to feature local specialties from across the nation, but Alaska seafood is a favorite in every state. That was the response of the 20 chefs who competed in last week's event in New Orleans.

The chefs and their assistants gathered on a huge stage last Sunday under the glare of Food Network lights at the downtown convention center as part of the Louisiana Foodservice Expo, the annual trade show for the restaurant industry. It marked the third year for the Cook Off, which is the brainchild of our nation's top federal fisheries manager, Bill Hogarth, as a way to draw attention to domestic fisheries. "It's our job to manage fisheries in a way that ensures that you have enough to eat," Hogarth said in his introductory remarks.

The 2006 event was also a way to lure people back to "The Big Easy" as it slowly rebuilds itself after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. While the downtown region has recovered, all of the local neighborhoods remain as ruined, rubble covered and abandoned as they did after the hurricane hit one year ago.

"This means so much to our state and New Orleans and our fishing industry, as well as to all the fishermen around the country," said Ewell Smith, event producer and director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, his voice choked with emotion.

Alaska's Naomi Everett of Settlers Bay Lodge at Wasilla bested four other top chefs in a state cook off to represent Alaska at the national event. "I am so excited to be here. I feel very blessed and nervous. The competition is awesome," she said as she anxiously prepared her Alaska salmon, halibut and king crab roulade entry. "Everyone is kind of amazed that I'm here from so far away, they regard Alaska as kind of a special state. The other chefs love talking about Alaska seafood, but they're not really very knowledgeable about it. Everyone mentions our 300 pound halibut," she added.

And halibut is clearly a favorite among American chefs. "Halibut is our number one selling dish. Every ticket has two orders on it and we sell at least 40 pounds a night," said chef Shawn Wellersdick of Port Land Grille in North Carolina.

"We use halibut three different ways at our Ocean Restaurant, and your fresh king salmon is the best. You guys have a great state up there with some great seafood," said Troy Guard of Colorado.

Alaska halibut and salmon is featured on the menu in many restaurants in Kentucky, said chef Jay Denham (Park Place on Main & Browing's Restaurant and Brewery). Salmon is a big seller in Missouri, said chef Tim Grandinetti of Renaissance Grand, who added that more diners are definitely aware of the difference between "wild and farmed."

"We serve tons of Alaska seafood," said chef John Nye of King's Fish House in California. "We have a wild salmon promo going on right now."

Ditto, said chef Tim Thomas of Georgia's Ocean Forest Club. Texas chef Larry Perdido of Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill said he serves Alaska halibut and added: "I would love to go there and catch a big lingcod."

Maryland chef Tim Recher (Wyndham Baltimore Inner Harbor Hotel) called Alaska halibut and wild salmon "amazing" and said he also loves Alaska king crab.

Chef Brian Flagg of Jasper White's Summer Shack in Massachusetts sources Alaska seafood only when he needs to supplement local species, and orders halibut, salmon and sablefish. "The freshest things are those coming from your local waters or soils. An event like this that uses local domestic seafoods gets us all invigorated," he said.

Of course, Washington chef Carrie Carlsteen of ZinZanni was a big fan of Alaska seafood. "My menu tries to feature white king salmon. I can't believe how delicious it is. We also use salmon and cod."

Alaska seafood is also a regular with Oregon chef Pascal Sauton, who held a fundraiser at his Carafe Restaurant to benefit New Orleans fishermen. It raised $2,000 and was matched by the Oregon Seafood Commission. "It's our way of saying thank you to them for being so welcoming and to help the local fishing industry," Sauton said.

Fittingly, New Orleans chef Frank Brigtsen of Brigtsen's Restaurant offered a Rebuilt Louisiana Seafood Platter as his entry, adding that "Alaska is my second favorite state. When fish is tight, I fly in halibut and salmon. I love it and will take all I can get. So many Americans have gotten used to farmed salmon and forget what wild tastes like."

When all was said and done, Florida's Justin Timineri was crowned America's Seafood King for his crispy pan-seared yellow tail snapper with passion fruit cream and citrus salmon, garnished with shrimp and green mango jam. "I'm about to jump out of my skin," he said at being crowned the winner.

Timineri has the unique position of executive chef for the Florida State Dept. of Agriculture. "No other state has an official chef. It's my job to promote Florida commodities. We need to stay away from imported stuff and can look no further than our own coastlines," Timineri said. His Team Florida partner and assistant for the cook off competition was Joshua Butler, Governor Jeb Bush's chef.

Georgia's Tim Thomas took third place and Louisiana's Brigtsen came in second. Alaska's Naomi Everett placed in the top six. She was assisted by Serai Timothy of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which sponsored the chef's trip to the event. "It's great publicity for Alaska and sustainable seafood. It's also a way to get young chefs like Naomi out on a national stage, and to show our support for the devastated Gulf region," said ASMI director Ray Riutta.

Sponsors of the 2006 Cook Off included NOAA Fisheries, Shell Oil, Budweiser, Tabasco, Seafood Business and Wild Catch Magazines. Judges were sponsored by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. The event will appear soon on the Food Network channel. Get more info at

FISH STEALTH - Brain implants that could turn sharks into stealth spies are being studied in a research project funded by the Pentagon. According to the publication New Scientist, the U.S. Navy believes remote-controlled sharks could track enemy vessels without being noticed. The military also hopes to use a shark's natural ability to sense delicate electrical and chemical trails left by boats. Research at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island builds on developments in brain implant technology which have already seen scientists controlling the movements of dogfish.

Since radio signals won't penetrate water, scientists plan to communicate with the sharks using sonar beamed from acoustic signaling towers, which are already in place off the coast of Florida. The towers can relay messages to a shark up to 200 miles away. The team has also designed a sonar receiver shaped like a remora fish, a species that often attaches itself to sharks. The team's next step is to implant the device into blue sharks and release them into the ocean.

Fisheries scientists also are investigating the use of brain implants to control the behavior of farmed fish. The plan is to let the fish loose to forage for themselves and retrieve them when they are large enough to harvest. A team at the University of Rhode Island has already developed implants that can make tuna and salmon surface on command. All of the fish research builds upon ongoing experiments to control animals by implanting tiny electrodes into their brains.



Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her Fish Factor column appears weekly in over a dozen papers and websites. Her Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations across Alaska.

Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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