Copper River salmon netted their annual red-carpet treatment when the much-heralded fish, after fighting their way 300 miles upstream against strong icy currents to their spawning grounds in south-central Alaska, touched down at Sea-Tac Airport last Friday morning. You’d’a thought an actual king had come a-calling.
Jon Rowley remembers well the days when the Copper River king ended up frozen for export to Japan or canned, fetching mere pennies—certainly nowhere near the $65 the celebrated fish hooked Friday evening at Ray’s Boathouse. (Copper River sockeye went for $38 at the upstairs cafe.) “Oh, yes, it has all snowballed,” says Rowley, adding with a chuckle, “Now it seems like it’s too big for its britches.”
Rowley is the mastermind of the Copper River salmon boom, one of the marketing geniuses who turned this oily, fat-bellied thoroughbred into aquatic gold. A lifelong scholar of the seafood industry from harvest to table who began his career as a commercial fisherman more than 30 years ago, Rowley got the bandwagon rolling. The year: 1983.
He’d tasted the fish years before, and knew there was something different, something deliciously and delicately tender, about it. “I was working as a consultant for four restaurants in Seattle—McCormick’s Fish House, Ray’s, Triples, and another owned by [Victor] Rossellini.
“I told them I was working on a project in Alaska with a gill-netter from Cordova named Tommy Thompson that would result in bringing to market here the best salmon in the world.”
The four restaurants ordered a total of only 400 pounds. It was all an experiment, recounts Rowley, now a contributing editor to Saveur. “So I had it flown down on Alaska Air and had it delivered. They put it on the menu at Ray’s, and I remember the waiters kept coming back to the kitchen, going, ‘My God, the customers are saying they’ve never had salmon like that in their life.’
Read the full story at the Seattle Weekly>>