STEUBEN — Some garden greens have sprung. Fiddlehead ferns are making their debut. Alewives are running. Parsnips, left in the ground to overwinter and sweeten, have been dug up. The sea scallop season just ended in the Gulf of Maine. Now, the halibut season is underway.
All these seasonal delicacies earlier this month figured on New York chef Ross Florance’s menu to pay tribute to the Downeast Salmon Federation’s 40th anniversary. The nonprofit conservation group has strived to conserve wild Atlantic salmon and other sea-run fish and their habitats since 1982. Its efforts helped bring about removal of dams on the Pleasant and East Machias rivers. Its land trust has preserved more than 6,000 acres and 45 miles of water frontage in eastern Maine.
A Roque Bluffs resident, Florance prepared and served up the 40th anniversary banquet on May 7 at the Eagle Hill Institute in Steuben. The institute’s executive director, Joerg-Henner Lotze, and Andrea Lotze provided the institute’s airy dining room for the celebration, which was attended by more than 60 people and raised more than $10,000 in contributions.
“It was a lovely setting. Joerg kept the fire going in the dining room, which was warm and charming,” Alan “Chubba” Kane, among the federation’s longtime board members, remarked last week. “I can’t remember going out and having a better meal.”
The fact that the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the international advocacy group whose mission is to conserve and restore wild Atlantic salmon, did not hold its annual banquet in Freeport this year gave Kane the idea of holding such a benefit dinner to mark the Downeast Federation’s milestone. The federation hosts its popular annual smelt fry and smaller gatherings but had never staged a one-of-a-kind dinner as a fundraiser. The event cost $150 per person and included wine and an equally tantalizing round of canapes preceding the meal.
Kane contacted Eagle Hill Institute and his idea was well received.
“Joerg and Andrea were such gracious hosts in letting us use the facility,” he said. Another board member, Serena Evans, reached out to Florance. She was familiar with the New York chef’s passion for wild, natural ingredients and commitment to source food locally.
Florance, who lives year-round in Roque Bluffs and New York, agreed to design and prepare the dinner. The Amherst-based Airline Brewing Co. brewed its Downeast IPA, an India pale ale, for the special occasion. The canapes were a feast in and of themselves. They included moose served with picked roses and black currant, Bar Harbor blond oysters with an elderflower mignonette, grilled alewife with aioli and pickled celery, smoked smelt spread with chives and rye crackers and charred eel (American Unagi) with sweet potato and pickled spruce shoots. For dinner, the menu began with charred scallops cooked with buckwheat and smoked smelt butter. Gulf of Maine halibut followed. The fish served atop a spring ragout of asparagus and fiddleheads with shellfish cream. For dessert, a pouding chômeur, a roasted parsnip purée with maple syrup, topped the meal. Bonnie Kane and Serena Evans lent a helping hand in the kitchen.
During the banquet, local sport fishermen Joseph and Charlie Robbins were recognized for their efforts. Live and silent auctions also were held. A wooden chestnut canoe, three-day, guided trip of three Downeast rivers, Ross shotgun and saltwater fly reel were among the items.
As a nod to the late British fisheries biologist Peter Gray, Kane brought along Glenfiddich, a 12-year single malt whiskey. Raising their glasses, the gathered folks toasted Gray, who is known worldwide for his innovative methods for raising wild Atlantic salmon. Over 30 years, Gray increased returning salmon from 724 to over 13,000 adults on England’s River Tyne. The biologist personally trained his Maine colleagues started the Peter Gray Parr Project on the East Machias River in 2012. The Peter Gray Hatchery was established and has increased egg production and the yield of raise fry and parr over the years. Since the Project’s inception, more than 1 million salmon parr have been stocked in rivers come fall.
For more info about the Downeast Salmon Federation, visit downeastsalmonfederation.com.