PUBLISHED: 5:18 PM on Wednesday, April 6, 2005
Governor's chef showed off skills, salmon at Louisiana cook-off

Photo by Kelly Parsons
  Stefani Marnon, chef at the GovernorOs House in Juneau, took part in a July 2004 national cook-off showcasing the nationOs domestic seafood industry ? and can be seen on national TV Sunday when a Food Channel program shows the cook-off.
The Great American Seafood Cook Off and Gulf Coast Seafood Pavilion last July offered an opportunity for Stefani Marnon, the Executive Residence Chef for Alaska Governor Murkowski, to fly to Louisiana to show off Alaskan salmon.

A press release from the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board said the three-day event showcased domestic seafood and was featured during the Louisiana Foodservice Expo in New Orleans. It read, "The event was especially designed to raise awareness of the superior quality of seafood that comes from American waters."

Marnon noted, "The whole point was to say, 'Buy American.'"

To get things moving, Louisiana's governor challenged every other state's governor to produce their best chef to represent their state at the cook-off, said Marnon. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Industry contacted Governor Murkowski, who chose her to go.

According to the press release, a "king" or "queen" of seafood preparation in the United States was to be chosen. John Connelly of the National Fisheries Institute oversaw a panel of distinguished judges. William Hogarth of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) presented trophies to the winners.

After the event, Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Board, said the Pavilion was a "tremendous success."

He added, "The event beautifully showcased our nation's domestic seafood industry, and we are already looking forward to the 2nd Annual Great American Seafood Cook Off August 6."

The press release explained that for the competition, executive chefs and their assistants were to prepare culinary items consisting of domestic seafood unique to their state.

Marnon insists the dish she prepared, pan-seared salmon with a white bean, fennel and onion salad and orange tomato sauce, was quick and easy. She added, "It's a great summer dish."

Because the dish only took 45 minutes of the two hours she had to complete it, Marnon had time to sample the work of others and offer her salmon for their analysis. She said while wandering the Pavilion among creations of some of the finest chefs in the United States, "I saw great food."

She noted, "A lot of the chefs hadn't been exposed to Alaskan salmon," but she feels it was very well received. "There was one chef from Delaware who does use salmon off a fishing boat in Sitka, and his restaurant is known for the best salmon."

Marnon hopes Alaskan salmon will show up in more restaurants across the country because of the exposure she presented and the favorable impression she believes it made.

Marnon, 38, grew up in Queens, NY, and later obtained a bachelor's degree in art. That first love led to her second love, cooking. She enjoyed combining her artistic talent with baking and created beautifully decorated cakes. When others urged her to pursue cooking, she'd say, "No, that's my hobby. I don't want to do that as a profession. Then I won't love it anymore."

Twenty-four years old in the late 1980s, Marnon was an art director working in advertising, but she felt it wasn't a good time to be starting out in that profession, so she started taking her cooking more seriously.

She graduated from Vermont's New England Culinary Institute with an associate's degree. While there, she did an internship at a school in New Orleans, so she especially enjoyed her return visit for the cook-off.

She said, "Going back was great because it's really where I started cooking. I came back twelve years later and I'm the governor's chef representing Alaska."

After the cooking school, Marnon got a job in New York City and stayed for about a year before trying out Seattle. "Cooking allows you to move a lot," she noted.

In June of 1997, three years after landing in Seattle, Marnon found herself heading for Juneau where she helped set up the Silverbow Inn. Later, while working at The Summit, she met her husband.

Now Marnon is the sole cook at the governor's mansion. Her family includes two young children who keep her too busy to show her artwork often, but Marnon said she feels she's spending more time painting now than ever before. She's content balancing her two loves of art and cooking.

Marnon did not place at the Pavilion, but to find out who did, cook-off coverage can be viewed Sunday, April 10 on the Food Channel (62).

At 9:30 a.m. there will be a brief segment on "Paula's Home Cooking," but at 9 p.m., it will be shown in full on "The Challenge."