Minnesota Sea Grant Program challenges top chefs to make herring exciting

Nine chefs, including big-name cooks from Corner Table, Oceanaire, and Stella's Fish Café, will compete tomorrow for a $1,000 prize in a contest to see who can create the best entrée from lake herring caught on Lake Superior. The event takes place Tuesday from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the University of Minnesota's MacNamara Alumni Center as a salute to Lake Superior's Sustainable Fisheries. Judges include Minnesota Monthly food writer Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl and chefs Albert Imming, Donald Miller, and Roland Schaeffer.

"[The event] is a celebration of a lot of different things," says Sharon Moen, communications coordinator for the Minnesota Sea Grant Program, a Duluth-based organization that works to enhance Minnesota's coastal environment and economy.The Sea Grant Program was first conceptualized by Athelstan Stilhaus while he was a dean at the University of Minnesota. If Stilhaus was still alive today, he would turn 100 years old on November 25.

"We wanted to do something to mark what kind of a man he was," Moen said. "He was an outrageous thinker, and he loved cooking himself, so we came up with this chef competition."

Competing chefs include Fire Lake Grill House and Cocktail Bar chef Paul Lynch, Corner Table chef Scott Pampuch, Stella's Fish Café chef Chad Rasmussen, and Oceanaire Seafood Room chef Jake Uttich, among others.

The lake herring being used, called cisco, is caught along the north shore of Minnesota. The population declined due to various reasons, including invasive species, but is now plentiful once more. "Most of the fish goes to Iowa, where it gets made into gefilte fish and sent to New York, and caviar gets sent to Sweden," Moen pointed out. "Cisco is a lake herring, which is a different beast than ocean herring. It tastes and looks different and is prepared differently. Even some of the chefs have never worked with this herring before. It doesn't taste so strong and oily and is actually quite nice," she says.

Nine chefs will face off to see who can cook the best herring dish.
Nine chefs will face off to see who can cook the best herring dish.

Event attendees will be able to sample the various herring concoctions and listen to live music by Michael Monroe. Cake, coffee, and lemonade will be served, and there will be a cash bar at the event.

The $10 tickets are available online through the University of Minnesota Bookstore in Coffman Union here, or by phone at 612.625.6000.

The McNamara Alumni Center is at 200 SE Oak St. in Minneapolis.

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