Alaskan Leader

IRIS SAMUELS/Kodiak Daily Mirror

Amanda Hershberg and Richard Thummel.

Cod caught by a locally owned fishing company will take center stage tomorrow afternoon in a live online cooking show hosted by Kodiak resident Amanda Hershberg. 

In normal times, Hershberg is a trainer at A Balanced Approach and the director of coaching and development for Monj, a California-based wellness company. But the COVID-19 pandemic led her to expand her professional skills. She now serves as the moderator for a live cooking show hosted on Zoom. 

“A big part of what we do is help people feel really confident in the kitchen and make delicious food with big flavors that also happens to be good for you,” said Hershberg, who moved to Kodiak two years ago with her husband, a Coast Guard member. “With COVID-19, we ended up with this live cooking initiative to inspire families to get together in their homes and enjoy making a meal together.”

The Monj live cooking initiative was made through a partnership with Virgin Pulse, a corporate wellness provider, “to help people around the world build literacy and maintain healthy habits and personal wellbeing during the current global health crisis.” But the cooking show is available not only to the company’s corporate clients — it’s available to anyone. 

When Hershberg was thrust into her new role as the host of the cooking initiative, she wanted to give it an Alaska twist, featuring Kodiak catch. 

“We were planning our cooking lessons for the coming weeks and I suggested we feature wild Alaskan seafood,” Hershberg said. “We chose Alaskan cod because it is one of the more affordable and widely accessible Alaskan fish options. It also happens to be very versatile because of its mild flavor.”

Hershberg connected with her friend and Kodiak local Janiese Stevens, who she knew as a fitness client.

“I knew her family was connected to the commercial fishing industry. I sent Janiese an email telling her a little about our project and asked her to connect me with her dad's company — Alaskan Leader,” Hershberg said. The company was open to the collaboration.  

For the Alaskan Leader, one of the largest longline businesses in Alaska, this was a perfect opportunity to get their product into the hands of American consumers. Until a few years ago, they sold almost exclusively to Asian markets. Now, after significant marketing efforts, around 60% of their product stays in the U.S., according to Richard Thummel, the company’s operations manager. 

“The American consumer is not the most educated fish consumer,” Thummel said. “But we’re making inroads.”

Thummel said Alaskan Leader’s four freezer longline vessels, ranging between 124 and 184 feet in length, try to minimize their environmental impact while maximizing the utility of the fish they catch — selling fish heads to Asian markets and grinding up other parts of the fish for dog food.

“It’s a good thing to do with any resource, but it’s also an economic imperative,” he said.  

Domestically, the company sells its products both to the service sector — providing fish to restaurants — and to retailers like grocery stores. Thummel said that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a precipitous drop in service sector sales, but an increase in retail sales has made up for the loss. 

“We were on a growth trend with retail anyway,” he said. Featuring the product on the Monj cooking show is just another way to encourage shoppers across the country to add Alaskan cod to their grocery haul. 

Alaskan Leader cod is available in Costco stores across the country — a major achievement for a relatively small company — but their products are still not available in any Kodiak stores. Thummel hopes to begin marketing to Safeway soon. 

The live cooking show, scheduled to take place tomorrow at 3 p.m. over Zoom, will feature blackened fish tacos prepared by Chef Eliza Martin of the California-based Culinary Artistas. Anyone can register for free to participate in the interactive cooking show at live.monj.com

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