This week The Captain and I attended a delicious dinner hosted by The Rookery Café. Owner Travis Smith and Chef Beau Schooler invited three chefs to prepared dishes from Alaska’s bountiful seafood supply. On the menu were salmon, halibut, black cod, assorted shellfish, and Dungeness crab. Each course was perfectly prepared and complimented the following courses. Needless to say with four amazing chefs, plus the additional sous chefs, cooks and helpful staff, the dinner was a huge hit with attendees.
Chef Beau and Jacob Pickard started the evening in the creatively eclectic style of Panhandle Provisions by preparing a seafood charcuterie platter. This was served family style and had interesting items such as halibut and salmon mortadella with a scallop “fat back”. The salmon bone salt was a favorite at our table as was the coho chorizo. The uniqueness and quality of Beau’s cooking truly came through.
Chef Richie Nakano of San Francisco, provided the next two courses, black cod chawanmushi and lightly cured sockeye salmon with roe. Chawanmushi is an egg custard that is savory and served warm. Chef Richie described it as the traditional Japanese grandmother’s chicken soup. It is very common in Japan and after eating it I can see why. It is smooth, creamy and rich, but also has that feeling of comfort food. There were large bits of the black cod, which added to the texture and depth of flavor of the dish.
His second dish was one of my favorites. I love cold smoked salmon and Richie’s was spot on. He used a mixture of 50 percent salt and 50 percent sugar, and a few other tasty ingredients to create the perfect salmon. The plating was beautiful with the addition of salmon roe and nori chips (seaweed). The item that brought it all together was the lemon and scallion ash mayo. I haven’t figured out what scallion ash is yet, but I’m now on a mission. It was just the thing to blend the flavors and had our table wishing they could lick the bowl. The consensus was we were in public and that probably wouldn’t be polite.
The next dish was something completely out of the box. David Varley of RN74 in Seattle really took creativity and “what the heck – let’s do this” to a whole new level. He prepared cavatelli with assorted shellfish. There were so many different flavors to this dish it we were hard pressed to say what we liked the best. I can definitely say that the gooseneck barnacle stole the show. It was none too pretty, but we all dug in with gusto. I’m the kind of girl who will eat just about anything a chef puts in front of me. Probably because I’m a southerner and it would be rude to say no, but mostly because I have complete trust in their abilities to cook outrageously delectable food. Although I must confess I do hope no one ever presents me with bugs, grubs, or worms. That might be the deal breaker.
The dish consisted of cavatelli (a small shell pasta), weathervane scallops, king crab, sea asparagus, kelp, chicken of the woods mushrooms, and a reduction of shellfish juice with white wine and butter. The combination of textures and flavors was impressive.
We were then given a moment to rest and digest and to get informed. Although the dinner was about the chefs and their abilities in the kitchen, it was also about the seafood itself. The attendees were introduced to Captain Kirk Hardcastle, from Taku River Reds. He spoke passionately of the quality of Alaska’s seafood and keeping it sustainable. We don’t farm fish in Alaska, we protect our waters and we want to continue to do so. I have said numerous times that I am not a political person, however I do believe it is not a political issue to protect our food sources. I am doing more research and learning more so that I can have an informed opinion. I met several members of Salmon Beyond Borders, spoke with commercial fishing captains, as well as Alaskan natives whose lives have been impacted by the changes in our world and environment, and subsequently Alaska’s fisheries. It was a solemn moment, but a needed one to remind us that the decadent meal we were enjoying didn’t magically appear.
The dinner continued with flare and the next dish was the most elegant. Plated simply, it was a halibut cheek with coconut adobo sauce. The flavors were rich and luxurious. I couldn’t get enough of it and from the satisfied groans of the group I believe it was a crowd favorite. It was prepared by The Rookery Café’s Chef Travis Hotch and Chef Rachel Barril. These two are worth keeping an eye on. I see great things for the taste buds and bellies of Juneau with chefs of this quality here.
Just when we thought we were nearing the end of the delciousness trail, Chef Ryan Lachaine of Reef in Houston came out with his version of BBQ Dungeness crab served family style. The flavors of the BBQ seasoning still permeates my hands and I’m so ok with that. There are not enough adjectives to adequately describe how good this was. The Captain and I were having a hard time sharing. It was a perfect wrap up to the savory side of dinner.
The final two dishes were desserts. Marc Wheeler of Coppa presented his smoked black cod ice cream, which is actually surprising in flavor. It has a nice buttery taste to it that is quite satisfying. He credited his chef Isaac for the creation. Additionally, Pastry Chef Melvin Cristobal from The Rookery Café presented brown butter crab tomalley semi fredo. Tomalley is a sauce made from the crab and the semi fredo is a semi-frozen dessert, similar to ice cream. I cannot tell you everything that was in it but I can tell you it was incredible. We were all cleaning our plates and hankering for more.
After eating everything and drinking the four wines paired with the meal I can confirm I had a happy belly. I was filled with great food, enjoyed wonderful company, and learned more about the sustainability of our seafood. I encourage each of us to get informed and look beyond our plates to where the food was farmed, fished, or raised.
Until next time…
Eat and enjoy,