Sitkan hopes to be crowned America's next best seafood chef

Colette Nelson of Ludwig's Bistro to compete in national seafood cook-off
Colette Nelson, owner and executive chef of Ludvig's Bistro in Sitka, cooks a pair of salmon collars in the restaurant kitchen. Nelson is headed to New Orleans next week to compete in the annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off.

A Sitka chef representing Alaska in a national seafood competition will be transporting the key ingredient — a white king salmon — in a violin case.

 

“I have a violin case that will fit the salmon perfectly,” said Colette Nelson, owner and executive chef of Ludwig’s Bistro.

She’s headed to New Orleans next week for the Great American Seafood Cook-Off. The whole salmon went directly into the deep freezer after it was caught earlier this month.

“I’m going to hold that fish with me. I’m not going to let somebody put it under the plane because that’s our gold,” Nelson said.

On Aug. 6, Nelson will compete against 10 other chefs from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. The cook-off, run by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, focuses on domestic, sustainable seafood and local ingredients.

After getting a call that she was chosen by Gov. Bill Walker to represent Alaska at the cook-off, she instantly knew she wanted to cook salmon.

Nelson contacted a troller she used to commercial fish with when she was in college, Lou Barr out of Auke Bay.

“He’s always been a great supporter of mine. I said, ‘I need you to catch me a white king salmon for the competition during the opener,’” she said.

And he did. He caught the fish south of Sitka on July 4.

Nelson wouldn’t give a full description of her competing dish — she’d like to maintain some sense of surprise — but she revealed a few hints.

She’s going with a Spanish theme, which her business is known for. Ludvig’s Bistro is a seafood restaurant that specializes in Mediterranean flavors.

“For me this experience is not only about representing Alaska, but it’s about what Alaska has given to me,” Nelson explained. “I came here to fish in college so that I could study abroad in Spain. I did that and had a great time fishing. I fished for three seasons, then went to Spain and fell in love with the cuisine and with Mediterranean food as a whole. So to go to this competition 25 years later after being in both the seafood industry and the restaurant business — it feels complete to go there with Spanish ideas.”

That includes incorporating saffron, Marcona almonds and roasted red bell peppers, she said.

Nelson has a reputation to uphold at the annual competition; Alaska won it last year. Juneau chef Beau Schooler was crowned Best Seafood Chef with a dish that featured sockeye salmon, which — while it is also a salmon — is a different fish, Nelson said.

“White king salmon is just so flavorful and tender and juicy,” she said.

[Juneau chefs win national seafood cookoff]

The dish will feature a pan-seared fillet of the fish that includes the belly meat.

“For anybody that knows king salmon, the belly meat is where the best flavor is,” Nelson said. “We like it just perfectly cooked so it just starts to separate, when the flakes come off. You can feel the oil, get it on your lips and really taste it.”

Nelson is originally from Oregon, where she grew up in the outdoors doing a lot of fishing. She attended college at University of Washington in Seattle and commercial fished in Alaska for three summers in the early 1990s.

After college, she cut her teeth working under Seattle restaurateur Susan Kaufman (who also had a food cart and restaurants in Juneau) at Serafina. She returned to Alaska in 1998, landing a job as chef at Kingfisher Charters & Lodge in Sitka. In 2002 she opened Ludvig’s Bistro. The small restaurant with an upstairs wine and tapas bar serves all kinds of local seafood like scallops, shrimp, halibut, rockfish, black cod and oysters.

At the competition, Nelson and sous chef Josh Miller will have an hour to prepare the entrée. Six plates of it will go to judges; one plate for a photo. Nelson said she was feeling nervous last week, but after practicing over the weekend she’s ready to represent Alaska and its seafood.

“We do this all the time. We cook under pressure,” Nelson said. “When we were practicing (Sunday) I said, ‘Look, we’re just having a dinner party for seven guests and let’s just make it in an hour. We got this.”

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

 

Related article:

Local chef to represent Alaska in national cook-off

 

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