Rookery’s Beau Schooler wins national seafood competition

Juneau chef Beau Schooler and sous-chef Travis Hotch at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute)
Juneau chef Beau Schooler and sous-chef Travis Hotch at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute)

Juneau chef Beau Schooler was crowned “Best Seafood Chef” at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off this weekend in New Orleans. He was one of 12 competing chefs from all over the country. He won with a dish that only had one main ingredient – Alaska wild salmon.

Louisiana Chef Cory Bahr tears open the first place envelope.

“From the state of Alaska, Chef Beau Schooler!” Bahr announces.

As Schooler kneels on one leg to be crowned, confetti falls from the ceiling. Schooler is chef and co-owner of The Rookery Café in Juneau.

“First time ever Alaska’s winner,” Bahr says.

Alaska is usually at the competition, which has been around for 12 years. Gov. Bill Walker nominated Schooler to compete this year and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute paid his way.

Schooler and sous-chef Travis Hotch brought sockeye salmon from Juneau company Taku River Reds to the competition.

Schooler describes their cooking method as a nose-to-tail approach, using every piece of the fish.

“The fillet portions, we brined and cedar roasted. All the scrap that’s usually clinging to the bone and the belly pieces, we ground that up and turned it into a salmon chorizo,” Schooler says.

They made crispy chips out of the skin and fried the salmon collars, the bony part between the head and the body.

“And then we have been working on this thing called bone salt where we’re taking salmon bones and cleaning them up and dehydrating them and then grinding them up and they kind of have this oceany, salmony flavor, so we seasoned the whole dish with this salmon bone salt,” Schooler says.

Schooler’s winning dish featured salmon skin chips, salmon bone salt and salmon chorizo. (Photo courtesy Laura Hotch)
Schooler’s winning dish featured salmon skin chips, salmon bone salt and salmon chorizo. (Photo courtesy Laura Hotch)

For Schooler and Hotch, cooking the various components came easily.

“We were kind of doing stuff we do at the restaurant every day. So getting that all done in an hour and presenting it to people, it was just kind of another day at work really,” Schooler says.

You can find the chorizo at The Taqueria, another Juneau restaurant Schooler is part of. Everything else has been on the menu at The Rookery before.

Schooler and Hotch had discussed different ideas before settling on, “Let’s do all the different parts of the fish and just put it on one plate and not put anything else on there,” Schooler says.

That was a pretty novel concept at the competition. The cook-off hosts talked about it while the judges deliberated.

“How dangerous is that to just do fish on the dish?” asked Johnny Ahysen, a Baton Rouge TV reporter.

“I don’t know. I think he was really confident. It was just fish but it was a lot of different flavors there, a lot of different preparations there,” replied Louisiana Chef Randy Cheramie. “Could it be seen as a gamble? Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

“That was a bold dish from Beau Schooler,” added New Orleans TV News Anchor Charles Divins.

After the competition, Schooler and Hotch spent time exploring the food scene in New Orleans, then Seattle for, as Schooler put it, “a couple days of gluttony,” before returning home.