For many Alaskans, eating fish is as much a daily staple as breathing air or seeing the sun rise. After awhile though, even life-long sourdoughs yearn for a new way to prepare this familiar dish, but a Soldotna man may have a Caribbean cure for those in a fish funk.
"I'm always looking for different ways to prepare fish," said Loren Hollers, who last weekend won the fourth annual Fish Alaska magazine Reader's Recipe Contest with his macadamia nut crusted halibut with mango and peach chipotle salsa.
Hollers said he developed the recipe from a friend's simple nut crusted fish recipe, which he gave his own flavorful twist.
"Everyone in my family likes spicy food, and I've always liked salsas, chipotles and using fruits," he said.
Hollers said he new the recipe was good so he wanted to share it, but initially he didn't set out to win the contest.
"When I sent it in, I didn't even know it was a contest. I just liked the magazine and thought I was submitting an Alaskan's recipe for people to use. Then they called me in May to let me know I was a finalist," he said.
Original seafood recipes are submitted to the magazine in the months of February through May. One finalist is chosen each month and the four finalists compete in a cook-off at the end to determine the overall winner.
Hollers said once he found out it was a contest and that he was a finalist, he set out to do his best.
"After the call I got serious about it. I'm pretty competitive, so I wanted to win," he said.
He said he began making the dishes several times for his family and food-loving friends. Hollers and his wife, Dianna, are members of an informal group of 25 people that makes international-themed meals then meet up to enjoy eating them together. He said he got advice from some of these folks on subtle tweaks to make to the recipe and how best to present the dish during the competition.
"I did a lot of practice runs with that group. They gave me their input and it helped a lot," he said.
Last Sunday Hollers made the trip north to the Kincaid Grill in Anchorage for the final cook-off, and he said it was a lot different cooking under pressure than cooking for the family.
"It was way different. I felt like I was on Iron Chef. For two hours and 40 minutes we were all cooking non-stop. It was intense," he said.
Hollers said serving the food was equally stressful.
"It was a lot different than cooking at home. I've never cooked for that many people, and we had to do a presentation serving for the judges and a serving line for 65 people," he said.
Judges for this year's competion were Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, Olympian Kikkan Randall, Chef Al Levinson, owner of the Kincaid Grill, and Melissa Norris and Marcus Weiner, the publishers of Fish Alaska magazine.
In the end they decided Hollers' fish was the best dish. He said he was happy to win, especially considering his humble beginning to the contest.
"After I sent the recipe in I never gave it a second thought until they called, but it was fun, not while cooking in the competition, but once it was over," he said.
Hollers also thanked his wife, who was allowed to assist him in the cook-off.
"I couldn't have done it without her," he said.
For his win, Hollers received a grand prize of a four-day, three-night stay for two at Ocean View Lodge in Old Harbor on Kodiak Island with roundtrip flights provided by Era Aviation and Island Air Service; a $1,000 shopping spree at Allen & Petersen's Cooking and Appliance Center; a trip to Valdez including two roundtrip tickets from ERA Aviation; a stay at Best Western Valdez Harbor Inn, a day charter from Wild Iris Fishing Adventures; a gift certificate to The Prospector and two Silver Salmon Derby tickets from Valdez Fish Derbies; the prizes also include use of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Center for a private party; a 30-minute Goose flight provided by the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum; a painting by Anchorage artist Scott Thompson; a Foodsaver Gamesaver Turbo Vacuum Packer and a gift certificate to Custom Seafood Processors in Soldotna.
Hollers said he will look forward to using the charters, food products and appliances he won to catch more fish to experiment on in the kitchen.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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