Alyn Williams talks to The Staff Canteen about Alaska Seafood

The Staff Canteen

Alyn Williams, chef patron at Alyn Williams at The Westbury and The Wild Rabbit has recently returned from an exciting trip to Alaska in collaboration with The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) with whom he has become a brand ambassador.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Alyn about his trip to Alaska – what he learned and how he intends to use Alaska Seafood in his restaurants moving forwards.

Halibut Cove

Despite travelling extensively, Alyn hadn’t previously visited or considered visiting Alaska. He did have a pre-conception about the country but this opinion certainly changed when he landed.

“Before I went, I google-mapped it and it did look bleak. It didn’t look like there was anything there. But I did go out with a lot of anticipation as I have been to America a lot but nowhere quite like Alaska. However, my preconception was blown away – it’s incredible and absolutely beautiful out there.”

The acclaimed chef found the landscape to be surprising and said: “It’s so remote in the wilderness and you really feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and you really are!”

Alyn went out to Alaska for five days to see for himself how they cultivate and protect the seafood. The Alaska Seafood Marketing institute approached Alyn regarding this once in a lifetime opportunity. 

One of the primary aims of the Institute is to showcase and spread the word about Alaska seafood. They take on a chef a year to be their brand ambassador and last year it was Adam Reid from Adam Reid at The French.

This time around, Alyn was joined on the culinary retreat by five other chefs from around the world as well as five US journalists.

He explained: “They are the official body, funded by the State of Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry as a whole from individual fishermen to organisations, that’s designed to maximise the catch.”

He added: “It was an interesting mix of people and great to see what the other chefs thought of it as well.”

Part of his trip to Alaska included spending time on fishing boats and learning about the different specifies of fish, primarily the five different types of salmon that can be found in the Alaskan waters. 

Halibut Fishing V
Alyn and friends with their catch

He said: “I had heard of sockeye and king salmon but didn’t know much about them. One of the guys with us knew everything about salmon - he knew all the facts and figures and the differences between the salmon species – how they lived and their life cycle. He taught us everything and it wasn’t limited to just salmon, but halibut, herring and rockfish which was really interesting.”

Alyn had previously used black cod (also known as sablefish) and king crab from Alaska in dishes but hadn’t tried or tested the salmon.

“The salmon, especially the sockeye salmon, is good stuff – it’s delicious and the flavour is amazing. The halibut and king crab are amazing too. The taste is phenomenal, I have never tasted anything like it. “

Alyn has always prided himself on using British produce and at first, he thought he might feel a bit at odds with using seafood from international waters, but he quickly changed his mind.

“You see what they do," he said. "And you hear their stories and you understand the whole process. It’s amazing what they do, especially the management of the fish. I have never seen anything like it. There is such care and attention and it really changed my mind.”

Alyn added: “They are leaders in the world for environmental and marine concern. They decide how much of the fish is sustainable to catch and then they halve that quota. The industry makes sure that there will never be a case of overfishing. They manage the environment and are really looking after what they have got.”

One of the key takeaways from Alyn’s trip was how fishing is such an integral part of people’s lives in Alaska. Almost everyone he met had a connection to fishing - whether they were a fisherman themselves, they were married to a fisherman, their son was a fisherman and so on.

He said: “Everyone in coastal towns and villages live off the sea and you have to admire how they use it. They don’t see it as a great big money pot that they can take out as much as they like - they believe that it is there to benefit future generations, hence the need to look after it so well.

“If you work on the seas, this is your life. It is everything. I have also been learning about the ethics too and how they respect it. They view the natural resource as something to work with – in harmony and with respect. It’s not there to be pillaged in anyway.”

Chef AW II
Alyn in the kitchen

The trip to Alaska certainly gave Alyn food for thought and one of his standout moments was making a plate of fish and chips using the halibut he had caught whilst fishing.

Some of his fellow chefs requested it and Alyn delivered in spades, even making a beef batter for the fish from local beer.

Did it live up to expectations? Of course it did! Alyn revealed: “I showed them what proper chips were and the fish was amazing – beautiful. The flavour was incredible and the freshness. I have never eaten halibut like that so fresh. It’s different when you get to prep it straight away. It’s almost transparent, it has such a clarity to it. The textures and the flavours were fantastic – it was delicious.”

Now Alyn is back home, he is looking forward to using seafood from Alaska in his restaurants. 

He said: “I will be trying out different things and once you start using it properly you understand the characteristics of the fish – how it cooks, what it goes well with, etc.”

It will be a ‘different kettle of fish’ than enjoying the fish fresh from Alaska since the product in the UK is frozen to make the journey.

Alyn said: “They freeze it at very low temperatures very quickly. As it comes off the boats, it’s done as it comes in. So, when you defrost it is still at the very peak of its freshness.”

As well as being chef patron at Alyn Williams at The Westbury, Alyn is also chef patron at the Cotswolds-based The Wild Rabbit having joined in May. He is working alongside Nathan Eades (formally head chef at the Michelin-starred Simpsons Restaurant in Birmingham)

The Wild Rabbit has previously held a Michelin star, so is winning the star back a priority for Alyn? He said:“If it happens, that would be fantastic. I don’t think you should get too hung up on those sorts of things. For me, the accolades come with good processes – by using good produce, by treating good produce well, by cooking properly, by good service – these are all things that are a strong focus of mine anyway – it’s about hospitality first and foremost."

He added: "Looking after our guests and giving them the best experience that we can possibly can. That is always the first thing on my mind. I wouldn’t chase the accolades generally but when you do things very well the accolades quite often follow. It’s a benchmark of how well you are doing your job if you are lucky enough to win a star.”

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st August 2018

Alyn Williams talks to The Staff Canteen about Alaska Seafood