PUBLISHED: 12:14 PM on Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Symphony of Seafood judges best of Alaska
Yukon king salmon from two small companies in tiny, far away Alaska villages were the favorites at the Symphony of Seafood event last weekend in Anchorage.

Ray's Gourmet Smoked Yukon King Salmon scooped the coveted People's Choice award. The salmon, which is smoked with a "secret blend of specially chosen woods," has been marketed under the Boreal Fisheries label for over 20 years by the Darling family of St. Mary's,

Yukon King Seafoods of Marshall,, again topped all others for its Smoked Cajun King Salmon. The savory, smoked chunks won the People's Choice award at last month's Symphony in Las Vegas, and won first place in the Smoked Category at the Anchorage event.

Placing second and third in the Smoked Category were two smoked sockeye salmon cream cheese spreads (one with Cajun spices) by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, under its Echo Falls label.

Sablefish debuted for the first time at the Symphony of Seafood, and two of the five entries took top honors in the Food Service category. All were offered by the partnership of Prowler Fisheries of Petersburg and Tom Douglas's Kitchen of Seattle. First place went to Smoked Sweet Chili Sablefish Tenderloin, with Ancho Chili Garlic Sablefish Tenderloin taking second place. The third place winner was lime flavored Wild Alaska Salmon Mexican Style by Horst's Seafood of Juneau.

In all, 19 new Alaska seafood products were rated by a panel of judges in Las Vegas. All winners are secret until the Anchorage gathering, where they are announced to an eager public. Now in its 13th year, the Symphony of Seafood was created by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation to showcase new products and introduce them to the marketplace. Get more info at or .

Chefs advise Alaska

Las Vegas loves Alaska seafood, said David Kellaway, corporate executive chef for Station Casinos (14 operations). "Typically, we use fresh salmon when it's running, and Alaska halibut is second to none," he said. Kellaway added that he is seeing better quality fish coming out of Alaska, due to more careful handling. "It's slow, but Alaska as a brand is pretty strong. If folks handle that wild catch with the highest standards, there will be a market for that higher priced seafood. But consistency is the key."

How to get more Alaska seafood on Las Vegas dining tables? Bring it to town and teach people more about it, said chefs Heinz Lauer and Peter Sherlock of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. "Education is the key," said Sherlock.

Chef Lauer said Alaska seafood marketers should attend regular meetings held by Las Vegas chef and food and beverage associations. "Bring it right to the table and let people taste and experience it. You need to be more visible here and participate in events...get your name out and become part of the community. If you don't understand the market it's not going to go well for you," said Lauer.

The three chefs were judges at the Symphony of Seafood event last month in Las Vegas.

Reality Workshops

Listening to the needs of the community has spawned "nuts and bolts" workshops set for later this month in Naknek.

Topics to be covered stem from responses to a workshop two years ago and from surveys of Bristol Bay residents, said organizer Liz Brown with the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory program in Dillingham. Seafood marketing and e-commerce top the list of things people want to know more about, followed by business planning and financing sources.

"A lot of people have expertise in catching fish and making wonderful products, but they don't realize how complicated direct marketing can be. It really takes a tremendous commitment," Brown said. In a second part of the workshop, visiting experts will also cover the basics of the business of seafood processing, such as complying with all of the permits and regulations, and designing and operating a plant.

A newer twist to the seafood workshop stems from the region's interest in new technologies. One is the extraction of omega oils from salmon, a process being spearheaded in Alaska by Subramaniam Sathivel, a researcher at the Fishery Industrial Technology Center in Kodiak. "He has found ways to make the extraction process cheaper and easier. If we could get people working on that out here, they could be making money from it. And the process only uses salmon heads and not the whole fish, so oil extraction has great potential," Brown said.

Welch, who lives in Kodiak, has written about Alaska's seafood industry since 1988.