We were invited to watch six stellar Alaska chefs compete in the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s First Annual Great Alaska Seafood Cook Off held last evening. It was a fierce battle held amidst hoards of raucous seafood fans anxious to learn who will represent Alaska at the Great American Seafood Cook Off to be held in New Orleans in August.
Contenders for the coveted title included: chef Aaron Apling-Gilman (Seven Glaciers Restaurant); chef Kristi Skaflestad (Chipper Fish Restaurant, Hoonah); chef Christopher Vane (Crush Wine Bistro); chef Mary Helms (JBER); chef Gil Turturici (The Chart Room, Kodiak); and chef Kevin Lane (Alaska Culinary Academy, Seward).
If you’ve ever watched culinary competitions you know that typically the chefs are given a secret ingredient. This cook off had a different twist — contenders had to provide all of their own Alaskan seafood products and the ingredients required to create their recipe. There was no pantry to raid, no advance cooking allowed, and no prepped items could be used other than pre-washed greens or peeled vegetables. One hour was allotted for the chefs prepare, plate, and serve their signature entree to the panel of judges.
Speaking of judges, the room was lit with a panel of seafood luminaries including chef Christine Keff from the Flying Fish in Seattle, chef Dan Enos from Oceanaire in Boston, chef Jose Souto of Westminster Kingsway College in London, Alaskan chef Rob Kinneen of fresh49.com (“Traditional foods, Contemporary Chef” and former executive chef at ORSO Restaurant), and chef Erik Slater from the Resurrection Roadhouse in Seward. Chef Slater represented Alaska in a last year’s Great American Seafood Cook Off.
Judges rated each chef’s dish on a 30 point scale with points awarded based on a dish’s presentation and plating, culinary creativity, and flavor. I don’t think points were awarded for enthusiasm, otherwise Team Hoonah – complete with an extremely vocal and uniformed cheering section – would have taken the top prize. But the perceived underdog did put out a delicious, creative entree that placed third in the night’s competition.
At the end of the evening a new King of Alaskan seafood was crowned, executive chef Christopher Vane of Crush Wine Bistro in Anchorage. Chef Vane won the competition with his beautiful troll caught white King Salmon pinwheel over a spinach cake, atop a polenta cake. We hope the dish ends up on his menu at Crush so it can be enjoyed by the masses. Long live the King!
Many thanks to ASMI and the sponsors of the event including the Alaska Railroad, providing guests with a lovely rail trip down the Turnagain Arm before arriving at the Sheffield Depot for the cook off. Sponsors also included Alaska Airlines, Alaska Grown, the Alaskan Brewery, J.Lohr Vineyards and Winery and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fish Watch.
Be sure to rally around Chef Vane and root for Team Alaska during the New Orleans based Great American Seafood Cook Off in August!
**(Photos courtesy of Crush Wine Bistro’s Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/CrushAlaska)