In 2010 I was at the end of a 25 year career in commercial interior renovations and had moved into a separate apartment in my mother’s house three years prior with my two boys. I had taken a night shift from 6pm to 2am as an interior site supervisor at Horop Construction Company to be able to be home during the day for my sons as they were only 5 and 7 at the time of the divorce and the last project I was running for Interac Inc. had taken too much time and effort from me. I was no longer young and able. I had to sleep and I insisted upon being present and involved in my son’s lives. A night shift and steady paycheque were a pleasant change from the years of hustling to get the sale and then slaving for the contract.
At this time my mother, Ann Marsolais, was at home making smoked salmon from a beloved family recipe created by her and my step father Valentino Raponi. What a wonderful name. It always just rolled off my tongue with such ease. Valentino Raponi. Unfortunately He had passed away a few years prior leaving a legacy of creativity that would require a book of its own. The Smokin Salmon recipe was not quite perfect but the family had become so accustomed to having it at the get togethers that they were calling within a month of his passing to see if Ann would continue to take orders. It was an expensive recipe to make and if they wanted to place increasing orders than they needed to absorb the cost. They agreed and soon enough Ann was being overwhelmed by the ever increasing family orders as well as now handling commercial orders as the word of mouth was spreading. The recipe was adjusted several times in the first year to create the final mouth-watering recipe for which Valentino’s became known.
The rest was a blur of three locations, hundreds of retail and commercial orders weekly, employees, inspectors, haasap cert , food handlers certs, shipping, advertising, social media and constant learning along the way. After putting ten years into the food industry, making smoked fish, my body said NO. By the end of 2016 we closed and went home to heal and lick our wounds.
Too much happened and so much changed in the industry in our short time involved that I now feel compelled to write it down and let others know. The learning curve was steep and hard to climb as well as it did not help that government regulations were and are still being created for the Canadian fish industry.
SUSTAINABILITY VS. FRESH
In 2008 Ann decided to see if the Smokin Salmon would appeal to retail and commercial customers and began knocking on restaurant and deli’s doors, dropping samples off everywhere she could think of. It worked and it worked almost too well. Within a year she was overwhelmed with orders and began asking for my help. It was a huge decision but I had to deicide to continue in a construction job that was slowly disabling me due to my ever growing arthritis or join my mother in a potentially easier and fulfilling job, as I loved to cook.
As a single mom I needed to look at the monetary income potential. Unaware of the food industry regulations, we thought we could continue at a small scale from our kitchen just as many caterers do and our per pound costing made it the decision to join my mother feasible.
Free of any other regulations at the time, we were able to concentrate on freshness and I began learning about “sustainability” as defined as “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.” (www.dictionary.com)
I quickly learned that “freshness “ was often in opposition of “sustainable” and we needed to find a balance.
In order to get the freshest and highest grade (sashimi quality) salmon meant being able to receive the salmon within hours of coming out of the water. Whereas, in order to get the sustainable meant examining the supporting arguments for both farmed and wild caught salmon.
After a great deal of research and talking with the people involved with David Suzuki ‘s Ocean Wise Program, we concluded that wild caught was not sustainable for us. We were already using 50lbs per week of raw salmon and planned to grow from there. The thought of taking that amount form the wild did not make sense with the ever lower wild salmon stocks being reported every year. As well as the fact that most wild salmon is frozen on the boat, when caught. So we had to look at the fish farms.
To provide the highest environmental protection, Ocean Wise endorses inland farms only. The problem that we found with the in land farms was higher rates of diseased and less sashimi grade. The farm fish also could not meet our need of 15-14 lbs fish that we required to get 5 lbs of good smokin salmon. We tried many farms large and small but we continued to end up back at the same one for the best consistent quality. To this day our family and friends eat only Northern Harvest Salmon (www.northernharvestseafarm.com). We found that their award winning commitment to the environment and high standards of quality could not be matched but they are not inland. They are in the Bay of Fundy.
Please spend some time this week browsing their web site and next week I will talk about sea lice and salmon flu.