There was a smell of salmon on the wind Saturday at the Kenai City Docks, as salmon was grilled, barbecued, fried and plated at the 2nd Annual Return of the Reds, a fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.
A ring of booths and food trucks created a large square at the docks, featuring the food bank, as well as Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association and the Kenai Watershed Forum. On the far side of the space was a line of three stations where chefs were hard at work finalizing their salmon dishes for the “Best Salmon Recipe” competition.
Lastan Williams, a chef from The Catch in Soldotna, said he made a grilled salmon with smoked compound butter. He had brought a grill and was cooking up long salmon fillets with lemons. That smoked butter gives the barbecued salmon a smoked salmon flavor he said, which would turn out to be a hit with the judges.
Williams said that he’s lived in Alaska for around 40 years.
“Seafood is kind of my forte.”
Next to Williams was Kenai Peninsula Food Bank head chef Stephen Lamm and sous chef Christopher Smith, with a small tent and an array of pans.
Lamm said they were putting together a blackened salmon with a cajun veloute.
“I had planned on doing things a little higher end,” he said. “But I think the people are looking more for flavor.”
He said that the dish he was preparing was “very typical,” but that the cream sauce accompaniment would enhance that flavor.
Finally, operating out of a food truck, was chef Virginia Fraase, owner of The Hearth Eatery. She said that her dish would be composed of “salmon three ways.” That included a salmon in bacon-fried rice, a smoked salmon Rangoon and a tempura salmon.
“I just basically make what I like,” she said. “I like it and I hope somebody else likes it.”
Fraase pointed to the tempura salmon as an opportunity to show off “another way to eat” salmon. She said salmon is rarely served deep-fried.
A panel of judges including Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank and Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Tyler Best visited each of the three chefs and sampled their dish, scoring each on a variety of criteria.
Micciche said, after judging had concluded, that each dish was “excellent.” He said the judges recognized the difficulty of keeping salmon fillets in great condition, especially when prepared and served in the circumstances at the docks.
Citing Lamm’s cream sauce, Micciche and the judges named the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank’s Fireweed Diner the day’s victors.
Salmon from the three chefs could be sampled by attendees of the event, and food bank Executive Director Greg Meyer also ran a grill, serving up more sockeye.
Even as the chefs were working to put the finishing touches on their dishes, preparations were underway for the other marquee attraction for Return of the Reds. Angler Dave Chessik returned to the dock with a freshly caught sockeye salmon, “the first of the season,” to be auctioned off for the food bank’s benefit.
The fish was a female, a “gorgeous” 6 pounds, Micciche said, as he served as the auctioneer. It went for $58 per pound and sold for $348 to Jim Butler.
For more information about the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, visit facebook.com/kpfoodbank.