Sitka Seafood Festival Celebrates Salmon on the Tongass National Forest


SourDough News | July 5, 2014


The fish head toss was just one of many games and activities.
The fish head toss was just one of many games and activities at the Sitka Seafood Festival on Saturday, August 5.

Seared coho.
Chicago chef Ali Banks showed off her homemade pesto recipe to go along with seared coho during her cooking demonstration at the Sitka Seafood Festival.

The best part of visiting Sitka for Chicago chef Ali Banks is being able to eat fresh fish. While not a novelty here in the Tongass National Forest, Banks said there is nothing better than being able to catch a fish during the day and have it on the plate for dinner that night. It’s a luxury Banks does not have in the middle of America.


Banks gave a cooking demonstration at the Sitka Seafood Festival on August 2. But what does an out-of-town chef bring to a community that eats fresh salmon all the time? Banks said she wanted to bring a fresh perspective. She taught the crowd how to make homemade pesto for a seared coho fillet. Down in Chicago, Banks says, people dress up their fresh fish because it’s a treat to be able to eat it. She hoped to bring that creative energy to her cooking demonstration in Sitka.


Sitkans may eat fresh salmon more than Chicagoans, but they still like to celebrate the success of their fisheries here in the Tongass National Forest, which provides 28 percent of all salmon produced in the state of Alaska.


On Aug. 1 and 2, the community gathered for the fourth annual Sitka Seafood Festival. The festival included a marathon, kids’ races, cooking demonstrations, food booths, festival games, a fish head toss and a parade.


“It’s a celebration of how lucky we are,” Cherie Creek, a regular volunteer at the festival, said. “We are a seaport and have tons of fisheries and fresh food.”


While it is a community event, Creek said she enjoys having people from out of town join in the festival activities. Her favorite event of the festival is the children’s crab races.


The Sitka Seafood Festival is a great way to “show off to visitors how important seafood is to the Sitka community,” Lon Garrison, president of the Sitka School Board said. He said he enjoys celebrating the well-managed and sustainable resource of the Tongass every year.


Garrison also participated in a new event at the festival this year: the Fish to Schools recipe contest. He helped judge 8 different recipes provided by locals to find the new recipe to be used in local schools this fall. The Fish to Schools program, initiated by the Sitka Conservation Society, brings locally caught fish into school cafeterias twice a month.


One in ten jobs in Sitka is related to the fishing industry, so the festival really does rejoice in local endeavors. And the outsiders notice too.


“Everyone I’ve met has some kind of tie to fishing,” Banks said. “It really drives everything.”


Banks teaches in a recreational cooking school in Chicago and uses salmon from Sitka Salmon Shares in her classes. She said she encourages her students to buy wild rather than farmed fish because there really is a difference in quality. She also writes basic and fun recipes for the Sitka Salmon Shares website, which distributes mostly in the midwest.

Traveling to Sitka for the seafood festival was a real treat for Banks. She spent a few days in Sitka out on a boat fishing. “I got the best Alaska has to offer,” she said. “I love knowing where my food comes from.”


By Anna Bisaro, Sitka Conservation Society