Photos by Steve Shay
After their three-hour flight, pilots Jeff Meyer, captain, and Peter Michels, first officer, appeared with a "lucky" 42-pound salmon over their heads, caught in the Copper River near Cordova, AK. 9 hours earlier. Former West Seattle resident, Chef John Howie of Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar, won the cook-off, which, let's just say, "involved" the lucky fish. This event has become an annual Seattle ritual since 2010.

SLIDESHOW: Alaska Airlines Combi lands at Sea-Tac with year's first Copper River salmon; Four celebrity chefs compete

At 6:15 a.m., May 17, a Boeing 737-400 Alaska Cargo Combi arrived at Sea-Tac Airport with much fanfare to unload 24,000 pounds of recently-caught Copper River king and sockeye salmon via processors, Ocean Beauty, Trident, and Copper River seafoods.

After their three-hour flight, pilots Jeff Meyer, captain, and Peter Michels, first officer, appeared holding a "lucky" 42-pound salmon over their heads, then escorted the fish down the outside ladder to the tarmac, and across a red carpet for media and other onlookers. The fish was caught in the Copper River near Cordova, Alaska, just nine hours earlier. This event has become an annual Seattle ritual since 2010.

Under a large tent blocking a slight drizzle, four master chefs and their assistants received a portion of the booty by veteran slicer Nestor Guillermo for the cook-off competition, a key ingredient of the annual event. After a 30-minute rush in their makeshift, outdoor kitchens, the four dishes were served to four celebrity judges.

Chefs included the undefeated champ, Pat Donahue, Anthony’s Restaurants Exec. Chef, John Howie of Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar, Chris Bryant of Wildfin American Grill, and Master Sgt. Robert Shulman representing the 446th Airlift Wing (AW) of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Howie told the West Seattle Herald, "I did this (cook-off) in 2010. They gave me a second shot. I tied, and in the second round I lost to Anthony's. I'm here to win it. I lived in West Seattle after I turned 21, and lived in a little house with a pool above the Fauntleroy Ferry Dock. It was a fun place."

"We are the three-time reigning champions going for the fourth," responded Donahue. "I scared John off last time. He's taken a couple of years to think this through. I know he's gunning for me. I've been with Anthonys 34 years. I started as a fry cook in Kirkland."

"A long time ago they made me a cook, 30 years ago in the military," said Sgt. Shulman. I drove up here from Portland yesterday."

Wildfin president, Attila Szabo looked over the shoulder of Chef Bryant.

"I oversee the business, but Chris doesn't let me into the kitchen," said Szabo. Bryant disagreed and said Szabo is a talented chef.

Judges were, with head shaved, former Mariner baseball great Jay Buhner, long-time Deadliest Catch Time Bandit deckhand Mike Fourtner, Chief Master Sgt. Tony Mack, 446th, JBLM, and Jeff Butler, Alaska Airlines VP of customer service.

While the judges were sampling, event celebrity host Tom Curley was filleting them for laughs. He skewered Butler for his tanned skin and asked if he spends a lot of time in Mexico on "business" using air quote marks with his fingers.

Curley was also quick to pounce playfully on Sgt. Mack, suggesting that the fix was in since both Sgts. Mack and Shuman are with the 446th. When he questioned Mack, Mack retorted wryly, "I'm eating!" and refused to answer.

Sgt. Shuman finished in second place, while Howie took the gold. It was pointed out that while there was just one winner, all four chefs were selected to compete for their high level of skills, to the delight of the judges.

Guests included 10 citizen airmen and women from the 446th AW and elite Alaska Airlines customers who donated 75,000 miles to the Fisher House Foundation’s Hero Miles Program. The programs takes donated miles and allows wounded service members undergoing treatment at a military or VA medical center and their families to travel.

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