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Special Feature: Alaska seafood education

Greystone hosts the Alaska Seafood Seminar training event for culinary professionals

By Joan Lang
July 01, 2007

When it comes to chefs and menu development, three days playing in the kitchen with seafood is like a dream come true. And at The Culinary Institute of America, known as one of the best culinary schools in the country country, no less.

The Alaska Seafood Seminar, a professional program sponsored by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), in partnership with The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif., has become a semi-regular event that encourages seafood menu development. This May, 16 chefs and culinary professionals from chain restaurants and high-volume college foodservice operations were invited to participate in the program, the eighth of its kind since 1995.

"We started doing this program as a way to help educate chefs and develop better relationships with them," says Claudia Hogue, ASMI's foodservice marketing director. The debut seminar was Greystone's first custom program, held just weeks after the facility opened. "It's a great way to really delve deeply into a subject - seafood - that can be pretty confusing, and to give chefs some hands-on experience with the products so they feel more comfortable working with them on their menus."

Indeed, research conducted in 2005 by The Hale Group on behalf of ASMI indicated that 60 percent of consumers are more likely to eat seafood in restaurants than at home, prompting a growing number of operators to add more fish and shellfish specialties to the menu. The strategy is paying off: At chain restaurants in particular, 64 percent of patrons were eating more seafood than they were two years earlier, according to the Hale Group. Growing concerns about health - both of individuals and the planet - further points to the wisdom of offering seafood from wholesome, sustainable sources.

Wild seafood from Alaska is widely considered to represent a model of sustainable seafood practices for the rest of the world, a fact that has become increasingly relevant to consumers.

"As we open more accounts and are getting more RFPs [requests for proposals], we're finding that more organizations are requesting information on our sustainability practices as well as our food quality," says Roger Beaulieu, director of culinary development for CulinArt, a Plainview, N.Y., provider of foodservices in the business and industry, educational and recreation and leisure markets. "When you've got that level of immersion, you can really understand what the issues are. [The Alaska Seafood Seminar] is going to help us meet our clients' needs."

Over the course of the three-day event, attendees were given ample opportunity to learn about Alaska seafood firsthand through a variety of presentations, demonstrations and cooking. The event was divided into three species subgroups: whitefish (halibut, cod, pollock, sole, black cod and surimi); salmon (covering the five varieties of king, sockeye, coho, chum and pink); and shellfish (including king, snow and Dungeness crabs, spot prawns and scallops). Samples of every species were flown into Greystone by ASMI.

Morning sessions emphasized product information presented in an overview format by Randy Rice, ASMI seafood technical director, and Joseph Zalke, national accounts representative. Both Rice and Zalke have spent their entire careers in the seafood business, and have gained expertise in species identification, product forms, handling and specifications and harvesting methods and availability. CIA chef-instructor Lars Kronmark led a series of discussions on global flavor-building techniques, demonstrating ways to adapt Alaska seafood to the spice pantries of Asia, Latin America and the Mediterranean - three regions identified as having the most on-trend applications.

Other programs included a demonstration of Alaska seafood in modern Vietnamese cuisine by Charles Phan, chef-owner of the Slanted Door in San Francisco; a discussion of oils, breadings and batters by Chris Loss, director of the Venture Foods Center for Menu R&D at Greystone; and a seafood-and-wine pairing presentation by wine guru 
Evan Goldstein.

Each day included at least two hours of hands-on production in the CIA's state-of-the-art teaching kitchen. Students worked with all 16 varieties of Alaska seafood to produce recipes from "The Alaska Seafood Spice Pantry," a new book debuted by ASMI at the event. The final day's production showcased a market basket, in which participants were asked to prepare a series of dishes of their own devising, including their choice from all the Alaska seafood varieties and an extensive array of ethnic ingredients.

"Being able to work with the fish in the kitchen was amazingly useful," says attendee Mark Miller, director of R&D for Captain D's Seafood. "People are enthralled with Alaska as our last frontier, especially with all the TV shows like Planet Earth and Alone in the Wilderness. It's a great time to be part of a groundswell to help educate our patrons to make them more aware of how Alaska seafood is not only great-tasting, but also sustainable."


Contributing Editor Joan M. Lang lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine


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