WISCONSIN AND MINNESOTA SEA GRANT
Over 285 people enjoyed sampling Lake Superior whitefish and lake herring (cisco) during the recent Lake Superior Fish Classic – a chef cooking competition and public tasting event held in Duluth, Minn. The event, co-sponsored by the Minnesota and Wisconsin Sea Grant programs, was designed to highlight Lake Superior’s sustainably managed fisheries. For the first time in three competitions, the same entrée won with both the professional judges and the public. Chef Seth VanderLaan and his team from the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee won $1,500 for first place out of seven competing chefs, and the People’s Choice Award. The second place Superior Award of $750 went to Chef Scott Graden with The New Scenic Café, Duluth, Minn.
VanderLaan’s dish was seared whitefish with creamy grits, sweet corn chow chow and poached herring butter. Lead Judge, Don Miller, with the University of Notre Dame, said the dish won “because of the variety of cooking methods used. The flavors came together and were balanced. The seared whitefish was cooked perfectly. The herring was smoked lightly and counterbalanced the creaminess of the sauce. The grits were a nice touch and the chow chow on top added a contrast in flavor profiles.”
In his job as banquet chef for the casino, VanderLaan regularly oversees catering events for upwards of 2,500 guests. VanderLaan began working as a line cook when he was 16, and graduated from the Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City, Mich. He is certified by the American Culinary Federation and has worked as a sous chef in Mount Pleasant, Mich., and Detroit.
Graden’s dish was root vegetable hash with lake herring. He also participated in last year’s cookoff, earning both the Superior Award and People’s Choice awards. Miller said that Graden was “impeccable in the kitchen. By far, out of everybody, he did the best job of filleting and cleaning the fish. It’s also very hard to crisp the herring skin to give it a nice crunchiness. The crispiness balanced the soft texture of the lake herring. The dish was cooked perfectly and seasoned well. The dish had a great Swedish breakfast theme and was executed beautifully.”
Graden’s culinary career began when he and his aunt bought The New Scenic Café in 1999. Since then, patrons and food critics have termed the café as a “destination restaurant.” Graden is constantly working with the idea that sustainable and local ingredients make the best food.
Miller said that the variety of cooking methods displayed was the clincher for the winning dish, but that “both were extremely good and would be stars on any menu.”
The Oct. 4 event was sponsored by Bodin Fisheries in Bayfield, Wis.; Dockside Fish Market in Grand Marais, Minn.; the Duluth Seaway Port Authority; Lake Superior Magazine; and Minnesota Power. In 2011 and 2012, the competition and tasting event was held in Minneapolis.
Conceived in 1966, Sea Grant is a national network of 33 university-based programs of research, outreach, and education for enhancing the practical use and conservation of coastal, ocean and Great Lakes resources to create a sustainable economy and environment. The National Sea Grant Network is a partnership of participating coastal states, private industry, and the National Sea Grant College Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.