By Josh Lewin, Executive Chef | Beacon Hill Bistro, and Alisha Fowler, Chefs Collaborative
Last year, Chefs Collaborative and the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association teamed up to host Bristol Bay salmon dinner events across the country during the peak of salmon season. Our goal was twofold: first, to raise awareness about the pristine Bristol Bay, Alaska watershed. Second, to help chefs and thousands of Americans enjoy the delicious, special flavor of Bristol Bay’s wild sockeye salmon – a resource worthy of celebrating, and protecting.
There are a lot of sticky facts about Bristol Bay, here are just two to chew on: more than 35 million adult salmon return to Bristol Bay each year in June and July to spawn, and it is a $1.5 billion commercial and sport fishery. Wow! Those are huge numbers.
At the end of the day, though, I think the following phrase sums up the way that Bristol Bay touches our lives regardless of whether we live in Alaska or the easternmost Lower 48: if you have ever enjoyed wild sockeye salmon, chances are you’ve had salmon from Bristol Bay! That’s how big this industry is, and it touches a lot of lives.
For many chefs, the 2012 dinner series was an opportunity for them to develop their own unique and lasting relationships with the salmon and communities of Bristol Bay.
Chef Josh Lewin of Beacon Hill Bistro in Boston, MA lives approximately 4,700 miles from Bristol Bay. Yet chef Josh feels closer to Alaska than ever before as the 2012 dinners helped him foster a relationship with a small community on the eastern shores of Bristol Bay. Read on for his story, and plans for 2013:
“Salmon was one of the first things I remember really enjoying as a kid – in various forms. my mother would cook it fresh, my grandmother would serve us smoked salmon, and her aunt, Margaret would serve heavily cured and peppered salmon when we would visit her in Montreal. I loved it. When we started learning more about the issues surrounding the Bristol Bay fishery we really felt compelled to raise awareness for all Americans and their relationship with salmon, and this natural resource that is worth protecting.
In 2012, Beacon Hill Bistro made a commitment to carry the fish fresh while it was in season in the early summer. We worked with our suppliers to make it possible to purchase from one small fishing family in Egegik, on the south side of Bristol Bay.
Since first getting involved with the fisheries in Bristol Bay I’ve made an effort to understand the people there and what their lives are like. I have a close friendship with a number of families there, including Aleut Indians. They have been fishing in Bristol bay for generations; their livelihoods and well-being are utterly dependent on the presence of the fish, and a market for its consumption thousands of miles away.
One friend of mine, Shana, who’s family is from Bristol Bay reports that her father has worked for Trident Fisheries for more than 30 years. Some of her sharpest memories are from working in her family’s smokehouse with her grandmother and brother, gaining experience preserving their catch, and remarking about how her family’s yearly wages depended on that short salmon run period in June and July. I want to see her family be able to continue in its industry.
To support our efforts to raise awareness about Bristol Bay, Shana’s grandmother sent us some wild cranberries they had preserved, from Egegik, to serve at the New England Aquarium during a screening event of the documentary Red Gold.
Developing a relationship with these communities, and understanding how their livelihoods and traditions depend on the salmon, has deepened my connection to the food we serve, and my interest in Bristol Bay.
This year, we will be renewing our commitment to the families fishing the Bay and are looking forward to our first delivery of Bristol Bay Sockeye very soon.”