SEATTLE (FNS) -- Let the flames begin! The grilling season was heralded here with Larry's Markets bringing the first Copper River Salmon of the season to market. Albert Buholzer, director of seafood, was at the Alaska fishing grounds to arrange details that helped rush his fish to Seattle in this annual unofficial race between retailers and restaurateurs across the country.
The world-class wild salmon was hauled over the gunwale shortly after 7 a.m. on opening day, and hoisted onto a waiting helicopter that took the prize to Anchorage, Alaska, for a direct flight here. Once in Seattle, eight salmon weighing a total of 250 pounds were loaded onto two trucks and rushed to the chain's Bellevue and Queen Anne stores, complete with a motorcycle escort. Once they arrived at their respective destinations, the fish were delivered into the waiting hands of local renowned chefs, Jan Birnbaum and Chris Hill, who grilled the prize and served it to waiting customers.
The balance of the first-day Larry's catch, some 2,100 pounds, was distributed throughout the Larry's Markets chain and ready for sale the following morning. Depending upon daily market conditions, Copper River Salmon generally sells for between $15 and $20 per pound.
"It is certainly a change of pace to sample such an expensive item," said Greg Abbey, the Queen Anne store director, "but the amount of good will this has brought to the community is definitely worth it. The Copper River Salmon race is like a rite of spring for Seattle. To be the first to offer it is very special."
The Queen Anne unit's barbecue outside the front entrance scented the neighborhood. Samples of the salmon were served on dressed wild greens, real silverware and china to punctuate the special nature of the presentation.
"It feels really good to be able to sell such fresh fish," said Tamera Wilson, spokeswoman for the chain. "Bringing in the first Copper River Salmon also helps bring people into the store on a Monday."
Every year, supermarkets, fish-market owners and chefs wait by their phones to confirm which Alaska Airlines flight the first fish will be on once the 500-boat fleet takes to the waters in the state's Prince William Sound. The run is controlled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and is carefully monitored to protect what some consider the world's best-tasting fish.
A unit of Whole Foods Market hung a banner in the seafood department "warning" customers to be on the lookout for the special salmon. The prior winner of the race, Queen Anne Thriftway, likewise had banners up at the store ready to welcome its fish, which arrived the following day.