The road less traveled,the Romanian soccer player, and the ancient armored amphibian: Chef Philippe presents wild exotic cuisine (alligator) in the late 1970s.
Chef Philippe remembers: “My first experience with marketing exotic game started in 1985 when I met one of the most characteristic individual in my life. Egon Klein was a true entrepreneur who moved to Louisiana in the mid-seventies to buy alligator skins from trappers to ship for tanning and processing in Italy. Egon was a native of Romania and spent several years of his childhood as a captive of the Nazi concentration camp during World War II. The ID tattoo on his wrist always reminds me of what he endured – I have immense respect for him. (continued)
Egon’s business started to decline in the late 70’s because of the animal rights movement that started in Europe; no one wanted to wear furs or skin goods from wild animals. One day during lunch hour Egon came to my restaurant, the “Chez Paris”, with a little ice chest full of alligator meat. He asked me: “Chef, can you create alligator meat recipes so that I can sell the whole alligator instead of just the skin?”
My answer to Egon was simple: Come back tomorrow and I will have a few dishes for you to taste! (continued)
Egon was a former professional soccer player for Romania’s national team, and his energy and positive attitude made us the perfect match to launch a campaign for Louisiana alligator meat. After creating dishes such as precooked Smoked Alligator Loin and marinated tail meat for Alligator Beignet, we attended the Boston Seafood Show introducing samples of our new Louisiana wild exotic meat. The next year we attended the Salon International de l’Agroalimentaire (SIAL) in Paris, the largest food innovation observatory in the world, where for the first time Louisiana alligator meat was on an international market as a premier exotic delicacy. With hard work and positive feedback, sales started pouring in.”
While still in Jackson, Louisiana, I teamed up with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and launched the challenging campaign to market nutria. Because nutria was eroding the coastline by eating vegetation in the marsh, LDWF approached me to assist with menu and marketing solutions. The bottom line: nutria eradication was needed before severe damage was done.
During the campaign, my friends and great Chefs Daniel Bonnot, Suzanne Spicer and John Besh helped convince a majority of consumers that nutria meat is very high in protein, low in fat and actually healthy to eat. Over the years I have proven that my instinct to create a market for exotic cuisine can be successful, and these chefs appreciated and believed that a difference could be made when we all work together at promoting my trusted idea.
With the help of Mr. Noel Kinler and Edmont Mouton of LDWF, our group cooked nutria stews, nutria soups, roasted nutria, and grilled nutria at many functions. One particular event at Bizou Restaurant on St. Chales Street in New Orleans featured a nutria dinner and a nutria fur coat fashion show where three hundred happy guests arrived to eat nutria prepared by Chefs Spicer, Bonnet and myself.
By this time, several major television networks and National Geographic had picked up on our nutria promotion story. Although the meat was accepted by the majority of consumers – similar to acceptance of escargot – there was resistance from some. The biggest obstacle we had to overcome with getting the meat marketable was the psychological outlook that nutria resembles oversized rats. We put in years of hard work on this project with limited success. We could not get U.S. Department of Agriculture approval to sell the meat for human consumption because herbivores had to be killed in a slaughter house under FDA supervision.
Then one day, out of nowhere, the late Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee decided to use nutria as practice targets for his officers. Shortly thereafter, local media reported that nutria was seen in New Orleans gutters. Nutria, at this point, was being publicized as a nuisance species. Within days from the headlines, our efforts to sustain a nutria market were shot down.
Though our marketing efforts to commercialize an invasive species yielded unpopular opinion, the fact remains that nutria meat is a healthy food. In hindsight, all our efforts of teaching the public about unusual and different food have had a gradual positive impact.
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The introduction of alligator as an edible food along with the efforts with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to resolve the Nutria problem set the stage for Chef Philippe Parola to become a leader in turning invasive species into edible food products.
The next big invasive species for Chef Philippe was the the Asian Carp. Chef Phlippe founded Silverfin™ Group and "Eat the Problem!" to help manage the Asian carp populations and save our rivers.The "Eat the Problem!" movement is here to help connect consumers to eateries to distributors to Silverfin™ Fish Cakes which are the only real viable solution to managing the rapidly expanding Asian carp population throughout America.
Asian carp were brought to the United Sates in the 60s and 70s for use in government agency and academic research, in sewage treatment plants; and as a biological control for algae, plants and snails in aquaculture.
Since then, these non-native fish escaped these environments and spread rampantly through the fresh waterways of the Mississippi River Basin. Now they are pushing the boundaries of the Great Lakes and entering Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, threatening multi-billion-dollar fishing industries. Their destruction continues at an alarming rate, leaving native ecosystems demolished, commercial fisheries in despair, and countless livelihoods crippled.
We recognize with gratitude the aid our government has given to help halt Asian carp from harming the Great Lakes. They must continue to do everything in their power to prevent carp from destroying the fisheries economy and ecology of the earth’s largest freshwater ecosystem.
Asian carp are in at least 28 states and steering toward more. Crucial to resolving the Asian carp crisis is a solution that not only protects the Great Lakes, but also directly tackles the continued destruction that Asian carp impose on native habits and lives throughout the Mississippi River Basin, and our country.
A solution that meets basic human needs and ensures humankind does not pay a hefty price…
In the US, 1 in 5 children suffer from hunger, over 600,000 people are homeless and without proper nutrition, and countless communities are at risk. Yet, we have a bounty of wild natural nutrition rich resources in invasive species that is simply being wasted.
The Asian silver and bighead carp. Both reproduce by the millions, silver can grow to upwards 80 lbs, and bighead upwards 100 lbs. Both are voracious eaters. They devour the primary food source of native fish: zooplankton, phytoplankton, algae, and detritus at a daily rate of two to three times their body weight
Since their diet coincides with that of certain native species, they are powerful ecological competitors. In fact, they have the potential to displace and/or consume native populations of fishes, plants mollusks, and other invertebrates, causing devastating ecological and economic impacts to commercial fisheries.
These huge feisty ravenous fish have run rampant through the Mississippi River Basin for decades, and are now tearing up rivers beyond the Basin – the Wabash, White and Tippecanoe in Indiana; the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers in Tennessee; the Kansas and Verdigris rivers in Kansas; the Missouri River threading through Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota; the St. Croix River in Minnesota; and all the way down south where the Red River flows through the Mississippi and into the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana.
And they have already seized the Illinois River:
“The Illinois River has more Asian carp per mile than any other,” notes Duane Chapman.
Kevin Irons, an ecologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources who has studied the carp, said he and other scientists found 4,100 adult silver carp per mile in a 66-mile stretch of the Illinois River north of Peoria; with each individual fish having the capacity to reach upwards 80 pounds.
Kevin said that although there isn’t a similar study for bighead carp, he believes the numbers are similar. The research, published in 2009, found that silver carp populations increased 84 percent between 1998 and 2008 in that same 66-mile stretch.
Michael Massimi, Invasive Species Coordinator, Barataria-Terrebonne, National Estuary Program, describes the urgent need to address the critical situation in Louisiana’s coastal zone:
“A thousand miles to the south (of the Great Lakes), there is much less attention and many fewer resources being devoted (to the Asian carp crisis). Unlike the Great Lakes where carp invasion may yet be prevented, the introduction of Asian carp into Louisiana’s coastal zone is now unavoidable. But the impacts may be just as severe.
At risk is a commercial and recreational fisheries industry (for shrimp, oysters, blue crab, menhaden and other finfish) worth an estimated total impact of $3.5 billion per year to the state. The industry supports roughly 40,000 jobs, and the coastal zone provides an estimated 21% of all fisheries landings by weight in the lower 48 states according to the Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
Bighead carp have already been found in the East Bay, a brackish area near the mouth of the Mississippi River, and silver carp have been found in Vermilion Bay, Lake Pontchartrain, and the coastal marshes around Port Sulphur, LA, all locations with some salinity.”
We must create a solution that meets basic human needs and ensures humankind does not pay a hefty price. In the US, 1 in 5 children suffer from hunger, over 600,000 people are homeless and without proper nutrition, and countless communities are at risk. Yet, we have a bounty of wild natural nutrition rich resources in invasive species that is simply being wasted.
We have ambitious goals, but they are not meant to eradicate this menacing costly fish. Eradication is simply not possible. Rather, our goals are meant to reduce and manage the population of Asian carp and their threat to our native habitats and lives by providing a new healthy delicious fish to US consumers. We must learn to live with these fish while controlling their threat.
Creating consumer demand by transforming Asian carp, an infamous trash fish, into an affordable delicacy for human consumption is no easy task. To start, we gave the fish a fresh brand identity – Silverfin™. But Silverfin™ must also match the perceived quality of the name.
Chef Philippe possesses the skills to prepare the fish. With the help of his Silverfin™ Group, he has developed a unique technique to de-bone this wild caught fish and transform it into delicious, nutritious, convenient and affordable value-added fish products. Combine this with Chef Philippe’s business and public relations savvy to propel demand for Silverfin™ Fish Cakes across the country, and we have a sure fired recipe for success.