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'Seafood popularity is rising in US,' says winning chef

Great American Seafood Cook-Off winner Lionel Uddipa thinks the US will see more seafood-centric restaurants. 

Great American Seafood Cook-Off winner Chef Lionel Uddipa knows seafood. 

He moved from the Philippines to Alaska at just 2 years old when his parents relocated to help his aunt with her restaurant in Juneau. Growing up, Uddipa would play with his siblings and cousins in an apartment above the restaurant, and "every now and then we'd get a phone call that they'd need help, so we'd go down there and polish some silverware or wash some dishes and help out," he told IntraFish

"I grew up in it, and I love it," he said. "It's what I do." 

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Even so, a few days after taking the crown -- literally, organizers handed him a blue crown -- at the New Orleans event, Uddipa said he was "kind of still in shock" at the victory. But that won't stop him from taking advantage of the exposure he is receiving from becoming America's king of seafood, he said. 

Summertime is the busiest time of year for his Juneau restaurant, SALT, which boasts the tagline "Creative Alaskan Cuisine." Not only do the major cruise lines haul in tourists by the thousands, many fly in to Alaska, too, he explained. 

"They're looking for something more seafood-driven," Uddipa said. "People who come and visit Southeast Alaska, that's what they look for. We get some of the best seafood in the world." 

Popular items with tourists at SALT are the species Alaska is famous for -- salmon, halibut, king crab, scallops. Uddipa said the more traditional proteins -- chicken, steak -- are what wintertime guests want, but in the summer it's about "anything and everything seafood." 

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Now that Uddipa has somewhat defied the odds -- 75 percent of the winners of the Great American Seafood Cook-Off, organized by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board have been from Gulf states -- he is hoping more Alaskans will get to know SALT. 

"I'm hoping it will bring us a lot more business and locals in the town will be more curious as to what we're doing and what's on the menu," he said. 

He plans to replicate his winning dish -- Alaskan king crab with risotto -- at the restaurant and put it on the menu for people to taste. He used more than just king crab for the dish: The rice for the risotto was cooked in fish stock with fermented fish sauce, served with sea asparagus, salmon eggs and vanilla oil. 

He's also eager to do more competitions and also collaborate with other chefs, both from Alaska and other US states, on dinners and events. Seafood's popularity is growing in the US, he said, thanks to consumers being more educated about its health benefits and sustainability.

"I think we'll be seeing a lot more restaurants that are seafood-driven and a lot more non-seafood restaurants offering seafood," Uddipa said. 

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