Shrimp and scallops beware – in just about a month, hoards of hungry mouths will gather in Sitka to celebrate years of harvesting some of the world’s finest ocean delicacies, all home-grown in Alaska – seafood. The third annual Sitka Seafood Festival will take place Aug. 9-12, and if preparing and eating seafood is your thing, then Sitka is the place to be. It’s not too late to book a room at the Westmark Sitka Hotel, just a three-minute walk from Harringan Centennial Hall, where most of the festivities take place.
Southeast Alaska boasts some of the most scenic towns in the state, and Sitka, a sea-side fishing community, is indeed a gem in this region full of history, culture, glaciers, spruce forests and snow-capped mountains right on the North Pacific. Sitka is a diverse melting pot of people from Tlingit and American-Russian heritages with symbols of this ancient history embedded into the city’s streets, parks and life. One thing Sitkans of all backgrounds share is their love for the region’s rich and plentiful food source – Alaskan seafood.
The festival began in the summer of 2010, when a group of people from Sitka decided to celebrate this valuable food source (and a major component of the local economy) by creating the festival. Festival organizers said the idea was to experience Alaska’s wild and sustainable seafood through entertainment, education and culinary delights. Coordinated solely by volunteers and funded by local and statewide sponsorships, the two-day celebration kicked off with a banquet dinner that showcased recipes prepared by four local chefs and guest chef Robert Kinneen, who specializes in and promotes the use of locally-grown or harvested ingredients.
Day two of the festival began with a maritime-themed parade and continued with seafood-related educational and entertaining booths, cultural performances and a variety of seafood preparation contests and demonstrations. Events culminated with an evening of music by local bands and artists.
The 2012 version of the festival will remain much the same as previous years, with a few exceptions: This year’s festival will go on for four days, with the main events taking place on Friday and Saturday. The festival will host three guest chefs and the Juneau Pipe Band and Dance Group. Another newcomer to the scene is Sitka’s first official Highland Games event that will take place on Saturday, Aug. 11. The Highland Games are a Scottish traditional competition of strength and grit and involve the throwing and pulling of heavy items.
Also new this year is an ocean dreams-themed cake decorating contest and the Sitka Seafood Signature Dish contest, in which amateur and professional chefs will compete to create a seafood dish that will be marketed as Sitka’s signature food. The winning dish will be served in local restaurants.
Westmark Sitka Hotel’s very own Chef Randy, also known as Randall Rice, will be submitting an original creation from the menu of the hotel’s Raven Dining Room restaurant – blackened rockfish filet with steamed white rice topped with wilted arugula and a drizzle of tomato vinaigrette. With 13 years of experience cooking in Westmark Hotels under his hat, Chef Randy’s dish is sure to give other contestants a run for their money.
Festival events and schedules are still being finalized but a rough draft of the schedule and bios for the guest chefs can be found online. If planning a trip to Sitka for the festival, check back with the festival website for updates and a final schedule of events to get your delicious taste of Alaska seafood.