Serving up Great Lakes fish is something Trevor Bethke had always wanted to do as a chef. But because of some rather Byzantine laws regarding wild-caught fish, food safety and distribution, it has long been difficult to do what seems so simple: see fish, catch fish, serve fish.
Now, that time has come.
“Growing up on the piers of Grand Haven, I never imagined I’d have this opportunity. What an honor for a Michigan sportsman,” said Bethke, chef at Kirby House.
Launched in 2012, Michigan Catch & Cook is an effort to promote and encourage creative, safe marketing of Michigan Great Lakes sports fish through a partnership with the charter fishing industry and local restaurants. The program allows clients who catch fish from Michigan’s Great Lakes an opportunity to take their fresh catch to a participating Michigan restaurant to be cooked and served.
The Kirby House (2 Washington Ave.) is one of the most recent restaurants to join the program, and as of this printing is Grand Haven’s only participant. If you’ve had a good day on the water and you’re on a registered charter boat, you can call the Kirby in advance of your arrival and choose from a variety of preparations and accompaniments, depending on the day’s catch.
The Kirby will prepare dishes based on the fish starting at the beginning of the sport fishing season in April through the end of the season in October. Served family style, Chef Bethke and the Kirby House have concocted classic preparations such as grilled, Cajun-cooked, barbecued, seared, buttermilk-fried, or steamed with Old Bay and lemon-butter, depending on what you’ve hauled to shore.
According to Bethke, what the day’s catch may look like will depend on the season, but so far his crew has seen the likes of walleye, lake trout and fresh Michigan salmons from Coho to Chinook.
“It’s really one of the only ways to consume wild, line-caught fish in a restaurant setting,” Bethke said.
And you can be sure that your fish is up to snuff. The Catch & Cook program is one promoted and regulated by state entities such as the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development and the Department of Natural Resources. Charter boat captains are licensed and trained to determine whether your fish is safe and ready for service and consumption by restaurants, which are also approved to handle and prepare your day’s catch.
“Fresh, local ingredients are vital to the Kirby menu,” Bethke said.
Really, what better way to celebrate the waters — whether it be with an old Michigander or a new out-of-towner — than to showcase the bounties that the Great Lakes have to offer?
Regional cuisines, if nothing else, have become a popular way to tap into fresher ingredients and healthier, more sustainable lifestyles. We see Michigan’s agricultural variety on display at the Fulton St. Farmers Market and in the dizzying amount of restaurants opened in the last few years — many of which make a point to stock up from local distributors like Farmlink. But if Michigan is to carve its own culinary identity in the way that California or the American South has, the Great Lakes ought to play an important role in the way we eat.