Alligator was something Fred West had never had the chance to try — that was until he was sent to the Boston International Seafood Show last month.
“It was tasty,” he said.
West’s trip to Boston was the result of his Tustumena Smokehouse receiving the Alaska Symphony of Seafood new products contest grand prize award in February for their Kylee’s Alaskan Salmon Bacon. The product is free of hormones, steroids, gluten and other chemicals — making it edible for those, including his granddaughter Kylee, who normally can not consume bacon because of allergic reactions.
West said being at the event, which took place from March 10 to 12, was unlike anything he had ever experienced before. He said the floor was the size of four football fields.
“(There were) 1,200 booths, every type of seafood, every type of equipment, everything that you could possibly imagine from all over the world,” West said.
Some of the booths were constructed like a processing plant, he said.
“They had live king crab, live shrimp, live this, live that with big huge tanks with water swirling,” he said as he described the scene.
West said the event featured 128 countries — and that those who spoke English were among the minority. If there was a language barrier, it didn’t stop West from networking.
“I made a lot of great connections, that was the best part,” he said. “I never realized that so many countries involved with seafood were coming in. It seemed to be number one to have a good, quality product.”
Given the magnitude of the event, West said he didn’t have to leave the building for his meals.
“I’d walk around with my plate and fill it up with crab, lobster, shrimp, clams — nothing but seafood,” he said.
As for his product, Kylee’s Alaska Salmon Bacon, it was well received, West said.
“I couldn’t be any more pleased,” he said. “There is, without a doubt, a niche market for this type of a product. It’s a great tasting product, it’s chemical free with no preservatives and all natural.
“I think we’ve got a niche and I think we’re going to keep pursuing it.”
That pursuit could include an expanded processing plant in the near future that could provide year-round, full-time jobs for a number of people, he said.
“I think there is a possibility that we can build a larger plant and put people to work all year long making nothing but salmon bacon,” West said. “Not just (for) the typical hustle and bustle (of) fishing season for three months — I’m putting 15 to 20 people to work full-time all winter long.”
West said was able to meet the Alaska legislative delegation while he was in Boston, and is planning to meet with Sen. Mark Begich next week about his plans for expansion.
As an experience as a whole, with the food show and the sightseeing, West said he could “sit here all day and list everything.”
“It was one of the neatest experiences I ever had,” West said. “My family and I, we loved it. We were in awe.”