Luke Wholey grew up in a family whose name is synonymous with fish, so really, was there ever any question his future would include seafood?
By age 25, he had under his belt a year as a commercial fisherman aboard Alaska's salmon seiner "Sea Fury," along with two years as a fishing guide in Montana. After moving back to Pittsburgh in 2009, he opened the Wild Alaskan Grille outside the Strip District seafood market started by his great-grandfather Robert L. Wholey in 1912.
Mr. Wholey closed the busy sidewalk stand in December to prepare for a new full-service, yet-to-be-named seafood restaurant he'll open in the Strip with business partner Jason Hondros later this summer. And in August, the 28-year-old represents the state of Pennsylvania at the Great American Seafood Cook-off in New Orleans.
Now in its ninth year, the Aug. 11 event pits up-and-coming chefs against recognized culinary greats from 14 states; each is nominated by his or her state's governor. The winner will be chosen by a panel of six celebrity judges.
Luke Wholey says he learned about the contest, which has never had an entrant from Pennsylvania, while searching the Internet for suppliers for his new restaurant, when he found a story about the Great Alaskan Seafood Cook Off in Anchorage May 14. The winner will serve as Alaska's representative at the American contest sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"Seafood has always been my passion, so I thought, 'What an honor it would be to represent Pennsylvania,' " he says.
But first, he'd have to get Gov. Tom Corbett to nominate him. Mr. Wholey called his office every day for a month.
Contestants are asked to create unique dishes that use seafood native to their home states and encourage sustainable fishing. Mr. Wholey -- who'll be cooking with his cousin Jake Hack, a catering chef in Maryland -- plans to prepare line-caught Delaware River striped bass topped with Chesapeake Bay blue crab, in a cream sauce made with chanterelles from Wild Purveyors. They'll also serve broiled oysters with a mirepoix foam and cedar-smoked "bubbles," a modernist dish that Mr. Wholey describes as "awesome."
Tickets to the Aug. 11 event at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans cost $5 and include a seafood sampling. The event will featured on the Food Network. More info: greatamericanseafoodcookoff.com.
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com or 412-263-1419. First Published May 10, 2012 4:00 AM