Yeah all, I’m right there with ya. I too feel that “We was robbed!!!” being all but shut out at this year’s James Beard Awards. I send out a heart felt poppycock to ’The Academy’ this year as I cannot fathom how the likes of my culinary heroes with names like Bayless, Duffy, Virant, Carlson, Kahan, Izard, Sherman & Segal could be overlooked. Do I sound bitter???? I’m not bitter, just a lover of my people. Congratulations to the hard working talented Chefs who did score the 2011 wins and big props to some Chicagoans who were long overdue for recognition; Lettuce Entertain You founder Richard Melman for taking Outstanding Restaurateur and Julia Theil & Michael Gebert who took the Multimedia Food Feature Category for their work on the Chicago Reader Series, “Key Ingredient” which in a couple episodes featured culinary anomalies from your favorite mongers of the fish. Click the link for a video our old friend took of himself hearing his name called by Ted Allen announcing the win & listen close as he belts out the “OH MY GOD!!!” Following up last weekend’s Momma Day Brunches we saw the face of exhaustion across the city with reso numbers topping 600-800 in certain spots. It’s all done my children. Time to get back in gear and thinking about the weekend because we’ve locked up some libidinous seasonal delights for you to hone your ninja skills on! Spring is bringing on new fisheries that are going to pair perfectly with what’s being offered in your world of seasonal produce. One thing that has this fish monger all giggly & giddy is the return of the Hudson Canyon Stab Net Winter Skate. We first came across these last year when doing research into fleets taking exception to the “Red List” species that are on so many seafood watch group lists. We knew there had to be people out there doing hands on artisan work, taking care for their hunting areas and quality of the kills that deserved a spotlight. It’s during this search we were introduced to the Fleet of Barnegat Light New Jersey. This “Stab Net” Fishery targets only the larger Winter Skate species that is considered to be at healthy levels for fishing. The Stab Gill Net nature of the fishery allows nets to be set only for short intervals of time drastically decreasing bycatch and offering a kill that far exceeds anything else we’ve ever seen. The wings are massive, clocking in at a minimum two & half pounds that fillet out with a thick, unctuous nearly unreal slab-o-meat!!! The 2011 Winter Skate season is still in it’s infacy and catches are limited but we are grabbing all that’s being offered, committing to entire trips at sea so call in to secure your weekend needs. We’re beginning to see new light out of the Chatham and Southern Gulf of Maine fleets as well. Hand jigged Godzilla Sized Cod, Trap Net Silver Bream & Cape Cod Bay Morning Scallops from Captain John Lee of the F/V Betsy Gals II will be in house for weekend runs. Southern & Mid Atlantic states also had a decent week. Limited trips of Norfolk Canyon Black Tautog & Striped Rock Bass are inbound but only for the swift who call in quick enough to score. The word came down today and Chefs all over the world had the tingly gut dropping feeling you get when taking that 1st roller coaster drop. Next Monday May 16th the Copper River will see a short, twelve hour opening from 7AM to 7PM. You can imagine the flood of calls that began with knife wielding scallywags vying to preorder Sockeye & King Salmon from the infamous derby run area. As you can imagine, with the entire culinary planet lining up for this brief event, quantities will be EXREMELY limited so get your preorders in now. Moving into the weekend we’re seeing another sexy run of Vancouver Island Red & Ivory Kings. Pricing shot up a tad from last week but the catch is seriously still twitching & smelling of the salty air of the eastern Island. Moving down the coast, California & the Northern Bahia Todos los Santos (Ensenada’s All Saints Bay) are quickly coming into full swing on day trip Hook/ Line & Panga Boat fisheries. Live Santa Barbara Spot Prawn, Pink Baqueta Grouper, Sierra Mackerel, Ensenada Bay Scallop and the opening of the Mano de Leon Scallop season are all at hand. Keep checking in daily on what’s inbound from the fleets.
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Based on Shedd Aquarium’s Right Bite & Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Programs


The moment we've been waiting for over six months has finally arrived. I'd like to thank all of the participating Chefs and Guest Judges who helped make this Chef Challenge our best one to date. The level of participation and talent since the inception of these Challenges has skyrocketed and is serving as an inspiration not only to area Chefs but to us as purveyors who are continually striving to inspire some of the most talented people in the industry. After much deliberation the judges were finally able to come to a conclusion and we'd like to congratulate Chefs Aaron McKay & Nathan Klingbail of the Hyatt Executive Dining Room on taking the Grand Prize of $500.00! As you can all see from the time it took, this decision was not taken lightly and only after a conference call late last week the judges were able to come to a decision. Below, Louisa Chu, guest judge & newly appointed editor of Blackboard Eats Chicago was able to eloquently summarize that conversation. This is the first time we are sharing the "Judge's Table" comments with the public in hopes that this serves as a window into the process.

Judges' Table We asked ourselves and each other two fundamental questions - do we judge on the fish alone or the dish as a whole? We chose the latter - or more simply, "Which dish would we like to have again?" Chris Walker This is Chris's second showing in the top three - no small achievement, especially with his last time out in Challenge Trout against none other than Chefs Duffy and Zimmerman. This says a lot about Chef Walker's artistry. We were all looking forward to his elegant brown-butter brioche crust. His dish clearly echoed a French lineage, with a neat nest of julienned leeks as garnish and a sauce moutarde à la ancienne. It was classical yet modern - we discovered - as Chris created a double thick cut of Red Drum using what we believe was Activa/Transglutanimase to fuse together two naturally delicate filets to create a hearty pavé. While all of the judges appreciate modern, experimental techniques we felt that Chris leaving the bloodline in was an error. If it was in fact purposeful it unfortunately did not translate. While we liked the mustard sauce perhaps a more judicious use would have served this beautiful dish - and its enticing brioche crust - better. Marianne Sundquist This was also Marianne's second appearance in a Supreme Seafood Challenge top three - again, given the everrising bar of entries this is an extraordinary feat. The judges all agreed that Chef Sundquist's Red Drum was by far the best cooked. Flesh tender - she also roasted thin strips of the skin, heralding the dish with a smoky aroma and delivering an evocative fireside crunch. This was a bold American dish celebrating traditional ingredients in an ethereal and original culinary narrative. The dramatic miniature tower of cornmeal crepe cakes layered with apple butter intrigued us all but in the end overpowered the other graceful elements. We very much look forward to seeing what comes next from Chef Sundquist's seamless skill and powerful yet lyrical imagination. Aaron McKay and Nathan Klingbail Newcomers to the Supreme Seafood top three, Aaron and Nathan worked as a team to create a dish that at first glance is Southeast Asian in flavors - but by way of an alternate reality. The Red Drum was prepared as a skin-on roulade, deep-fried, finished in the oven, then sliced and served in among myriad garnishes. Overall the plating was complex to the point of overwrought yet successfully ambitious. Chefs McKay and Klingbail admitted themselves that this could have been any fish - and in retrospect perhaps that's what makes it even more appropriate to the culture they chose making the most of what's on hand and taking an ingredient beyond borders - literal or of the imagination. Novel yet familiar, the judges agreed this is the dish we'd most like to have again - but as the presenting chefs themselves suggested - perhaps next time it would be even better over a perfect bowl of rice. -Louisa Chu Chicago Editor