Asian carp – meet Chef Philippe Parola
It began in August, 2009, with the Food Network’s Extreme Cuisine program hosted by Jeff Corwin. Chef Philippe Parola was on the hunt for a unique fish to cook with Corwin at a Louisiana fishing camp. Chef Philippe and his Cajun fisherman friend Billy Frioux headed out on Billy’s boat to fish for alligator gar, a native Louisiana fish. Disturbed by the boat’s roaring motor, a barrage of giant silvery fish shot out of the water, two of which flew on board, landing at the feet of Chef Philippe. Little did these silver carp know, they had just met their match.
“Let’s cook it!” exclaimed Chef Philippe.
“Being a fisherman I knew that all jumping fish are bloody and need to be bled,” said Chef Philippe. “Being a chef, I knew to cut their tail fins and place them on ice. After cutting and skinning the carp, to my surprise the meat was white as snow. Excited with this discovery, I fried a few strips and learned that this fish was excellent eating.”
Don Dubuc, the host CBS’ Fish and Game and Cox Sports TV’s Paradise Louisiana, aptly declared, “They sure jumped in the wrong boat!”
Chef Philippe was destined for this kind of work long before he met the fish.
The inspiration to protect nature, better lives
He forged a deep connection with nature as a young orphaned child. Like other children, Chef Philippe went to school, had homework and daily chores, but he also hunted, fished and foraged mushrooms and berries just to put food on the table – he was cooking meals by the age of 5. He grew to understand nature’s central role in sustaining life. Now, he has two lovely daughters, Danielle Parola (18) and Jolie Parola (13), who continue to inspire his love of nature, and his commitment to bettering the environment and human lives…
“My daughters enjoy fishing and being in nature. I want to make sure that they will enjoy their relationship with nature for the rest of their lives. I want to make sure that the Asian carp do not destroy our recreational fishing, our natural world. And I am committed to reducing the danger that ‘jumping’ silvers pose when they burst out of the water – often hitting boaters and knocking them out of their boats,” states Chef Philippe.
A chef for all people
He has forged relationships with people, from all walks of life. With all of his fame and headlines in the media, he has never lost his humility. He has prepared meals for the homeless and hungry, with the same care and dignity as he infused in the private dinners he prepared for US Presidents and European royalty. He has given countless young people the chance to fulfill their dreams as chefs, through his culinary arts school, teaching, mentoring and believing in their talent.
And he knows the despair of the commercial fishermen, as he has fished for Asian carp with them, and listened to their stories about livelihoods being endangered. He knows of losses. When war hit in the Middle East, and the United States entered the Iraqi War, France opted not to aid. French chefs in this country suffered. People boycotted Chef Philippe’s restaurant and he lost it. But he kept moving ahead. Quitting never entered his mind…
From planet to plate – the road to forging markets for wild exotic cuisine
Chef Philippe simply poured his passion and energy into developing markets for highly nutritious, delicious, natural wild exotic cuisine. Through his efforts, he has led formidable crusades to develop human consumption markets for alligator and nutria. Today, Chef Philippe has emerged as the foremost spokesperson and invasive species culinary expert on Asian carp, and is focused on getting this most menacing and costly invader out of the water and onto the plate (see his recipes here).
Taking the road less traveled – a look back at how it all began…
The Romanian soccer player and the ancient armored amphibian
Chef Philippe remembers:
“My first experience with marketing exotic game started in 1985 when I met one of the most characteristic individual in my life. Egon Klein was a true entrepreneur who moved to Louisiana in the mid-seventies to buy alligator skins from trappers to ship for tanning and processing in Italy. Egon was a native of Romania and spent several years of his childhood as a captive of the Nazi concentration camp during World War II. The ID tattoo on his wrist always reminds me of what he endured – I have immense respect for him.
Egon’s business started to decline in the late 70’s because of the animal rights movement that started in Europe; no one wanted to wear furs or skin goods from wild animals. One day during lunch hour Egon came to my restaurant, the “Chez Paris”, with a little ice chest full of alligator meat. He asked me: “Chef, can you create alligator meat recipes so that I can sell the whole alligator instead of just the skin?”
My answer to Egon was simple: Come back tomorrow and I will have a few dishes for you to taste!
Egon was a former professional soccer player for Romania’s national team, and his energy and positive attitude made us the perfect match to launch a campaign for Louisiana alligator meat. After creating dishes such as precooked Smoked Alligator Loin and marinated tail meat for Alligator Beignet, we attended the Boston Seafood Show introducing samples of our new Louisiana wild exotic meat. The next year we attended the Salon International de l’Agroalimentaire (SIAL) in Paris, the largest food innovation observatory in the world, where for the first time Louisiana alligator meat was on an international market as a premier exotic delicacy. With hard work and positive feedback, sales started pouring in.”
Supporting controlled alligator harvest
Check out Controlled Alligator Harvest, An Effective Conservation Tool, Louisiana Says, a National Geographic article about ‘The Alligator Marsh to Market Program’, an initiative dedicated to ensuring alligators thrive.
Seeking out the ‘river rat’
Chef Philippe reveals his battle to bring nutria to the dinner table:
While still in Jackson, Louisiana, I teamed up with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and launched the challenging campaign to market nutria. Because nutria was eroding the coastline by eating vegetation in the marsh, LDWF approached me to assist with menu and marketing solutions. The bottom line: nutria eradication was needed before severe damage was done.
During the campaign, my friends and great Chefs Daniel Bonnot, Suzanne Spicer and John Besh helped convince a majority of consumers that nutria meat is very high in protein, low in fat and actually healthy to eat. Over the years I have proven that my instinct to create a market for exotic cuisine can be successful, and these chefs appreciated and believed that a difference could be made when we all work together at promoting my trusted idea.
With the help of Mr. Noel Kinler and Edmont Mouton of LDWF, our group cooked nutria stews, nutria soups, roasted nutria, and grilled nutria at many functions. One particular event at Bizou Restaurant on St. Chales Street in New Orleans featured a nutria dinner and a nutria fur coat fashion show where three hundred happy guests arrived to eat nutria prepared by Chefs Spicer, Bonnet and myself.
By this time, several major television networks and National Geographic had picked up on our nutria promotion story. Although the meat was accepted by the majority of consumers – similar to acceptance of escargot – there was resistance from some. The biggest obstacle we had to overcome with getting the meat marketable was the psychological outlook that nutria resembles oversized rats. We put in years of hard work on this project with limited success. We could not get U.S. Department of Agriculture approval to sell the meat for human consumption because herbivores had to be killed in a slaughter house under FDA supervision.
Then one day, out of nowhere, the late Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee decided to use nutria as practice targets for his officers. Shortly thereafter, local media reported that nutria was seen in New Orleans gutters. Nutria, at this point, was being publicized as a nuisance species. Within days from the headlines, our efforts to sustain a nutria market were shot down.
Though our marketing efforts to commercialize an invasive species yielded unpopular opinion, the fact remains that nutria meat is a healthy food. In hindsight, all our efforts of teaching the public about unusual and different food have had a gradual positive impact.
The press is on…
Chef Philippe has the uncanny ability to leverage small public relations budgets into mass media coverage worth millions. His crusade to combat the Asian carp has made its way onto numerous television and radio shows, and into numerous print publications – see all the coverage here.
Catch this video from CBS News (Dec 2014):
And throughout his career, he has been featured in International Seafood Leader, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Gaishuko, China Post, Taiwan News, Paris Express, Japanese Qyodo National News, Food Network, The Atlantic, Food Gourmet World Magazine, Voice of America (PBS/NPR), Radio Canada, Modern Farmers, and Cooking Light Magazine. And he has appeared on CNN, Fox News, CBS, ABC World News, ESPN, National Geographic, PBS, France 2, Fuji, and BBC.
Around the globe
Chef Philippe’s contributions to the culinary arts, to wild exotic cuisine, and to the environment have been celebrated throughout the globe. Whether those he has served know him best as a restaurateur, private chef, teacher, volunteer, expert adviser, invasive species culinary maven, conservation leader, or simply a friend, Chef Philippe Parola works tirelessly for the betterment of our natural world, and all human beings…
- Chef Philippe is an internationally recognized authority within the culinary and food marketing field, providing expert advisement for organizations such as the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, National Grocers Association, and US Agriculture Trade Office.
- He has prepared cuisine for US presidents, royalty and other dignitaries, for fishermen and scientists, and for the homeless and hungry, transcending all socio-economic boundaries with the same humility, care and integrity.
- He opened Chef Parola’s Culinary Institute, teaching and mentoring many leading cutting edge culinary artists such as Celebrity Chef John Besh, Celebrity Chef Tim Creehan, Executive Chef Michael Johnson, Centerplate Safeco Field, and Owner of Georgia Film Caterers and Chef Cullen Lord.
- He owned and operated French fine and casual dining restaurants for over 20 years, bringing a combination of unusual exotic dishes and comfort food to the table.
Chef Philippe’s national and international award winning achievements and professional accomplishments are many. We foresee his recipe to help reduce the population of Asian carp, and help to manage their threat to our native ecosystems as perhaps his greatest accomplishment to come.
- Honorary Member of Japan Chef Association, 1999, and Honorary Member of Quebec Chef Association, 1997
- Commandeur de la Commanderie des Cordon Bleu de France, 1997
- Licensed by the Louisiana Department of Education for Chef Parola’s Culinary Institute, 1994
- Represented the United States at FOODEX International, Tokyo, Japan; Paris, France; and Frankfurt, Germany, 1988 to 1994
- Presidential Medallion, U.S. Presidents Alumni Dinner Inauguration, 1993
- Best French Continental Restaurant, LOUISIANA LIFE MAGAZINE, 1988 to 1990
- Silver Plate National Award, Chaine des Rotisseur, 1988
- Les Toques Blanches International, 1984
- Founding Member of the Baton Rouge Chapter of the American Culinary Federation (ACF), 1983
Contact Chef Philippe Parola here.