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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Salmon Filleting Workshop

As the new sustainable seafood campaigner, I asked myself, what would be a good way to promote local fish in a fun way?  I have been in the hospitality industry for almost three decades and have worked with a lot of great folks over the years.  So, naturally I wanted to do something with food as it is a good way to get people interested, especially if there is a celebrity chef involved.  I moonlight as a server at Fable where Chef Trevor Bird, a contestant on Top Chef Canada, has been at the helm of a 60-seat restaurant for the last four years and has recently opened the Fable Diner.  Chef Bird’s philosophy is the foundation of his restaurant: local, organic and seasonal.  At Living Oceans Society, we are working to assist local fishermen using responsible fishing methods to sell directly into the Vancouver marketplace, helping the local economy and displacing unsustainable imported fish.  Often, fresh-caught fish is sold whole, so doing a filleting workshop made sense.

At first, I tried to put together two events; one in Vancouver and one in North Vancouver.  Chef Bird asked Ned Bell, the face of sustainable seafood in Vancouver, to lead one of the workshops and they both kindly agreed to volunteer their time.  I was very excited in the prospect of doing two filleting workshops with two great chefs.  Unfortunately, as the summer slowly went on, the logistics of getting these two very busy chefs at an available location became a lot more challenging!  And to make matters worse, the fishing season had been very disappointing, with Fraser River sockeye showing the lowest numbers ever on record—I might have no fish to fillet!

Luckily, I remembered that at Fable we only used sustainable pink salmon on our menu and contacted the supplier to see if I could get some fish for the workshop and to my relief pink salmon was available!  I ended up with a great location with the help of the folks at Oceanwise; Chef Poyan Danesh in charge of the cooking demonstration at Miele offered the Miele Experience Centre’s kitchen for free – a beautiful room in an amazing location, how lucky is that!

On the day of the event, I had asked a friend to help me with getting the fish from the Aquarium’s fridge to Miele’s kitchen.  Long story a bit longer, that fell through.  I got access to the Miele’s kitchen at 3pm on that day with the event being at 6pm.  I started getting things organized and left at 4pm to get the fish from the Aquarium. Bad idea: one hour from traffic jam!  Realized a couple of blocks later I had forgotten my bus pass and with no money in my pocket, had to run back to get it.  By the time I finally reached the bus stop I realized it was 4:20 pm and I needed to get back in time to finalize the room set up and greet the first participant.  Hail a cab to speed things up.  Get to the aquarium, get the fish and as I come out of the building I see a cab.  I run to get it but someone else was faster; luckily I had time to ask the driver to call me another one.  Wait and wait, time is ticking and no taxi, stuck in the middle of Stanley Park.  I call another company just in case, it’s past 5pm and panic is setting in my gut.  Oh relief, taxi is here at last!  We arrive at 5:20 pm, but the fun is  not over; now I have to carry 80 pounds of salmon for a whole block.  Sweat trickling down my back, I finally open Miele’s door.  I have half an hour to finish the set-up, get some words on paper for an introduction and five minutes to breathe before it starts.  Well, no such luck, the first participant arrives followed by the chef and the show must go on!

That night, Chef Trevor Bird inspired fifteen people of all walks of life to try their hands at filleting a salmon.  Hesitant at first to make the first cut, by the end of the workshop, everyone had filleted a 5-pound, sustainable pink salmon, learnt how to make a tartare and what to do with the bones and the head.  The chef had a couple of surprises up his sleeve.  He cooked the salmon he had used for demonstration for us to enjoy (depending on the oven you have, 200 F’ for 20 minutes or less if you use a convection oven OR until no longer translucent but moist OR to your personal taste). He even made a great tasting tartare out of the trimmings.   The only thing missing was a nice glass of Pinot gris from the Okanagan valley, especially for me!  The night was fun and interesting.

As seafood consumers, we can all make a big difference in the overall sustainability picture for seafood if we ask the right questions: “Where is this fish from?  How was it caught?  Is this fish farmed or wild?” At Living Oceans, we’re working to make it easier for you to answer these questions with online resources like and the Seachoice website (
And now that I’ve perfected the filleting workshop, it’ll be easy for you to sign up next time and learn how to fillet and prepare whole fish fresh from Fishermens’ Wharf to enjoy with family and friends!