Officially, the Great Alaska Seafood Cook Off was a chance to showcase Alaskan seafood.
But chefs also put other Alaska grown products on display such as sprouts, seabeans and rhubarb paired with the state’s well-known delicacies of salmon, scallops and sablefish at the May 8 competition.
Chef Kevin Lane from Chinooks Waterfront in Seward won the event with a dish he said was designed to highlight Alaskan coastal living. His sourdough-crusted sablefish with Yukon gold potato puree, sea beans, smoked salmon jus, rhubarb aigre-doux and basil coulis earned him the right to represent Alaska at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans on Aug. 3.
The sablefish, or black cod, he served was caught near Seward, and the fisherman who harvest it was at the competition. The accompanying items, like sea beans, were other common features in coastal dishes, he said.
Lane was one of six chefs participating in the competition at the Bill Sheffield Railroad Depot, which was orchestrated by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and attended by a cross section of Alaskans, from high schoolers to fishermen to state legislators.
Like the other contestants, Lane made his dish in almost exactly an hour with assistance from one person. He worked with Katherine LeMaster.
“Nom, nom nom nom nom,” said judge Naomi Everett starting in on Lane’s dish.
Everett was one of five judges at the cook off, which was organized by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Everett praised Lane’s choice of sablefish, calling it a high fat fish that tasted buttery and delicious.
“It’s a wonderful fish,” she said.
Lane was the only chef to showcase sablefish and seabeans. The others prepared king salmon, scallops, king crab and a variety of side dishes.
Mandy Dixon and Robert Lewis tied for second, each with a dish that included several types of seafood. Dixon offered up a marriage of two coastal cuisines – Japanese and Alaskan — with king salmon ramen. That was served alongside a spot prawn toast, a king crab beignet and a beet dish.
Dixon said the ramen was inspired by a recent trip to Japan. Her mom, well-known Alaska chef Kirsten Dixon, was the guest chef on a cruise from Japan to Homer, and Mandy joined her. As the ship stopped in various towns along Japan’s coast, the Dixons got off the boat and ordered ramen.
“We kind of went on a little ramen noodle tour of Japan,” Dixon said.
But the ingredients were Alaska, if the style was foreign, something Dixon said holds true at her Homer restaurant, La Baleine, which opened May 9.
Robert Lewis, from Maxine’s Fireweed Restaurant in Anchorage, was joined by his wife Katherine Lewis.
The duo used their hour to prepare scallops and purple potatoes with prosciutto, and white king salmon served with vegetables. The sprouts in the dish came from the valley, and the salad included local baby veggies, Katherine said. That’s how her husband operates at the restaurant, too, she said.
“He’s all about what he can get from the farmers and fishermen in Alaska,” Katherine said.
Competing was about more than just choosing the best ingredients and an appropriate preparation.
The chefs said that cooking in the railroad depot had its own challenges.
Brett Knipmeyer from Kinley’s served a scallop dish, and said making sure it all came together at the right time was tough. Scallops cook quickly, and he wanted them to be done last. But that meant for a few intense minutes at the very end of his hour, while he got the scallops finished and the accompanying items plated before his time was up.
The cooking space — a table per team — was also difficult.
Dixon brought her own stand-mixer, and Drew Johnson, from Anchorage’s Kincaid Grill, brought cast iron to perfectly carmelize onions and char king salmon.
“I love cast iron,” he said.
The most unique cookwear came from Icy Strait Point in Hoonah. Stuart Campbell and Brian Katzeek brought a hot plate and pan frying apparatus.
Katzeek used that to fry the salmon skin after filleting it in front of the audience, which included Hoonah supporters wearing red, shaking a cowbell and cheering every time their hometown was mentioned.
“We’re honoring the fish by using everything we can from it,” Campbell said.
Despite the challenges, the chefs said they enjoyed the camaraderie and chance to show their skills.
“The whole experience was fun,” Lane said.