Trout Unlimited Alaska brought a group of prominent chefs from California, Oregon and Kodiak, Alaska, to Bristol Bay this past June to experience the salmon fishery up close. The trip was also sponsored by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and several seafood processors. Chefs Helene Kennan of Bon Appetit Management Co., Quentin Topping of Google, Lisa Schroeder of Mother's Bistro and Mama Mia Trattoria in Portland, and Joel Chenet of Mill Bay Coffee in Kodiak gathered in King Salmon to take part in an "all things salmon" culinary adventure and to meet some of the people who make Bristol Bay so unique.
The group arrived at the height of the sockeye salmon run, which saw 40 million fish return to spawn this past summer. After settling in at Bear Trail Lodge, the chefs and accompanying food writers spent the next several days taking part in the fishery. They boarded skiffs operated by commercial fishermen, hauled in nets, picked fish, and toured a processing plant that heads, guts and flash-freezes the product.
"It was a great experience to witness up close where the fish come from, how well they are handled and to prepare salmon that we literally pulled from the water a few hours earlier," said Chef Kennan, a past president of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs.
After set netting and touring Leader Creek Fisheries, the chefs also watched Violet Wilson, an Alaska Native elder from Naknek, fillet and smoke strips of sockeye in her traditional smokehouse using a brine of salt and brown sugar. Wilson spoke passionately about her reliance on salmon to feed her family over the years. "Without salmon, we wouldn't have anything. Our survival depends on having clean water so that our salmon can return to us every summer like clockwork," said Violet.
The chefs also flew to nearby Katmai National Park to watch grizzly bears fishing for salmon at Brooks Falls, a world-famous bear viewing spot. Watch a video from Katmai. 
You can also accompany the chefs on their tour of Leader Creek Fisheries, an innovative company in Naknek that is at the forefront of flash-freezing and premium filleting techniques. Watch a clip from inside the plant. 
The tour was capped with a four-course dinner at Bear Trail Lodge. The menu included appetizers of Salmon Rillet and Alaska Wild Salmon Salad Nicoise, followed by a main course of Grilled Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon with Red Onion Compote and Red Wine Beurre Rouge and finished with a dessert of Salmonberry Mousse Cake.
Trout Unlimited Alaska works with chefs and restaurant owners, particularly on the West Coast, as part of its Savor Bristol Bay campaign. This grassroots effort educates the public about the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and what seafood lovers can do to get involved and help protect this very special place.