Poster for Return of the Reds. (Photo courtesy Kenai Peninsula Food Bank)

Return of the Reds returns after several-year hiatus

The Kenai event celebrates the start of the 2023 salmon season

The 2nd Annual Return of the Reds will be held at the Kenai City Dock next week on June 3, from noon to 3 p.m.

Return of the Reds is hosted by the City of Kenai, the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, with sponsorship by the Alaska Salmon Alliance. It’s described in promotional material as “a community event to celebrate the start of the 2023 Salmon Season.”

Lilly Murray, food bank donations and communications manager, said Wednesday that the event is “a celebration of the red salmon, and what that means for this community.” She said there will be vendors, food trucks, educational material hosted by the Kenai Watershed Forum and more.

The marquee attractions for the event are an auction of the first caught sockeye salmon of the season and a competition between three local chefs to prepare the best dish using sockeye salmon.

The food bank’s own head chef, Stephen Lamm, will be among the contestants, joined by chefs from The Catch Restaurant and The Hearth Eatery, Murray said. At 1 p.m. their dishes will be judged by a panel including City of Kenai Vice Mayor James Baisden and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche.

Dave Chessik will, early that Saturday morning, go out and catch the sockeye salmon for the auction. Murray said it will arrive at the dock at 1:30 p.m., followed by a live auction at 2 p.m.

The food bank is the benefactor for the auction and for other proceeds, Murray said. She described the event as a start for the food banks summer programming, important especially this year as the food bank continues to see larger than average demand.

“Proceeds go directly into us feeding the community,” she said.

Murray said that the food bank is regularly seeing large numbers of people coming in for aid. Normally, she said, the winter months see greater demand, but she said that each month so far in 2023 has surpassed the number of visitors counted in the month preceding.

That greater than average need has been regularly cited by the food bank, according to previous Clarion reporting. The food bank held several special fundraisers in 2022 to address unique needs as a result of rising prices for food and gas. Murray said that Nate Berga with the Alaska Salmon Alliance approached the food bank for Return of the Reds, “to help fill the gap.”

Claire Jones, administrative assistant at the food bank, said Wednesday that Return of the Reds would “really kick off” fundraising efforts for the summer. It will be closely followed by the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank’s Spring Festival only a couple of weeks later, held at the food bank on June 16.

Though this year’s Return of the Reds is the 2nd annual, its debut was all the way back in 2019, with plans for subsequent years stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic. Murray said it was “exciting” to see the event make its return, saying that it’s the first event Kenai has had in a while that celebrates sockeye salmon specifically.

For more information about the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, visit

Reach reporter Jake Dye at

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