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Lake Superior Fish Classic in Review

Photo by Chris J. Benson

What do 250 people, Midwestern culinary stars, and about 300 pounds of Lake Superior fish have in common? They all attended the Lake Superior Fish Classic, a professional chef cook-off and tasting event held at the Duluth Depot in October.
With fun, food, and a tasty nod to Lake Superior, the night ultimately awarded Seth VanderLaan of Patowatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee and Scott Graden of New Scenic Café in Duluth with prizes for their culinary expertise. For those who couldn't attend (and for those who want to relive the night), here's a breakdown of the celebration.

The night began when seven professional chefs (two from Wisconsin and five from Minnesota) each prepared a Lake Superior entré e using whitefish, cisco (aka lake herring), or both for judges Don Miller, John Occhiato, Ryan Schroeder, and Juli Kellner to consider. Then, the public joined the judges to taste a sample of each dish and cast their votes for a People's Choice Award winner. Music by North Shore artist Michael Monroe and a few words by Lake Superior fisheries experts contributed to this exciting atmosphere.

Among the chef competitors were Avery Cassar, formerly with At Sara's Table Chester Creek Café (Duluth), Adam DeSanto of Woolley's Steakhouse and Seafood Restaurant (Bloomington), Scott Graden of New Scenic Café (Duluth), Tom Linderholm of the University of Minnesota Duluth (Duluth), Christopher Mangless of The Traveling Chef and Three Three Five (Green Bay), Seth VanderLaan of Patowatomi Bingo Casino (Milwaukee), and Robert Wohlfeil of Oceanaire Seafood Room (Minneapolis).

In the end, "Seared Whitefish with Creamy Grits," VanderLaan's winning dish, snagged him both the Grand Champion Award and the People's Choice Award, totaling his prize earnings to $1,500. Scott Graden received the Superior Award, which garnered him $750 for his "Root Vegetable Hash with Lake Herring."

Lead judge Don Miller of the University of Notre Dame notes of VanderLaan's dish: "The flavors came together and were balanced. The seared whitefish was cooked perfectly. The lake 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."

VanderLaan, who regularly oversees catering events for upwards of 2,500 guests, says his culinary style is simple, contemporary American cuisine with unconventional influences. In addition, high quality, sustainable ingredients put him at the top of his game.

The Lake Superior Fish Classic was hosted jointly by Minnesota Sea Grant and Wisconsin Sea Grant, and sponsored by Bodin Fisheries in Bayfield, Wisconsin; Dockside Fish Market in Grand Marais, Minnesota; the Duluth Seaway Port Authority; Lake Superior Magazine; and Minnesota Power. Sea Grant is working with Lake Superior Magazine with the hopes of creating a similar celebration in Duluth in 2014. Keep your forks ready!

To see more pictures from the event, learn more, or download recipes for
the night's favorite dishes, visit www.seagrant.umn.edu/fisheries/classic.

By Russell Habermann
February 2014

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