Alaska Airlines takes salmon very seriously. Friday was the start of Copper River salmon season, and I was invited down to SeaTac airport at 6 AM to witness the first delivery via one of Alaska’s Boeing 737-400 Combi aircraft. These are used up in Alaska since so much cargo needs to be shipped in and out, and in this particular case the expanded cargo hold contained over 24,000 pounds of fish.
News teams were scattered about, filming clips in front of Alaska’s Salmon-Thirty-Salmon, one of its many specially decorated aircraft made to look like a giant fish. Unfortunately it wasn’t making the delivery this morning, but it was on hand for photo ops. I’m not sure who had their picture taken more often, the plane or Steve Hauschka of the Seattle Seahawks.
When the plane taxied over to the cargo facility, Alaska Airlines literally rolled out the red carpet so the pilot and co-pilot could walk down holding the ceremonial first fish in their hands. (The pilot even kissed the fish.) Then it was handed over to three local celebrity chefs for the #SalmonChef cook off. After all, why else would I have bothered to get up so early in the morning?
Jason Franey (Canlis), Ethan Stowell (Tavolata), and John Howie (Seastar) watched as the fishmonger filleted the salmon. Our emcee from KIRO7 did a great job taking jabs at the chefs, Hauschka, and the other newscasters. He even convinced Hauschka to give the attending military members some tips on how to substitute the fish’s head for a football!
I was there waiting to grab some of the leftover salmon once the chefs got the choicest cuts. And while I wasn’t able to stay for the judging ceremony (I had the most awful four-hour meeting starting at 8:30) I did enjoy the spectacle. Annual rituals like this are one reason I enjoy living up here in the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska Airlines does a great job fostering that with its local food on-board — unfortunately, no salmon there.
When I was growing up in California I knew of only two kinds of salmon: There was “salmon” and then if I was lucky there was “King salmon.” When I moved to Seattle I had to learn about all the different varieties, almost like they were fine wines. Chinook (King), Coho, Sockeye, and — for a limited time each year — Copper River salmon. Ivar’s Salmon House on Lake Union is a great place to try them all at once, even if the rest of the menu isn’t particularly special.
It’s a huge deal, and it’s fresh. Betsy Bacon of Alaska Airlines Cargo said:
No other airline delivers more Copper River salmon to the Lower 48 than Alaska Airlines, and making that happen within 24 hours after the fish is pulled from the water is no small feat.
We were eating raw fish that morning, which is perfectly fine as long as it’s fresh. But Tavolata is down the street so I went by for dinner that evening hoping to get another taste of it with more preparation. Unfortunately it hadn’t made its way to restaurants quite so quickly, though there were banners at the local grocery store on Sunday.
As an aside, one reason there were so many servicemen and women at Friday morning’s event is that Alaska was helping promote the new USO lounge at SeaTac airport. They’re one of the busiest in the nation and currently working to expand the facility at a cost of $1.7 million. Looking at some of the amenities, it’s amazing how much they offer — including beds, showers, a kitchen, games, and more — that put our own domestic lounges to shame. But it’s all for a good cause since these people aren’t on their way to another first class vacation like you or I.
If you’d like to donate to the construction of the new space, please consider buying a brick at usonw.org.