CARBONDALE - Most people don't equate Asian carp with fun, but more than 30 people who attended a presentation and cooking demonstration by Chef Philippe Parola at the Neighborhood Co-op on Friday were entertained as well as educated. If Parola accomplished his goal, they were also evangelicized.
Parola, president and CEO of Parola Enterprises, has more than 30 years of culinary experience. But now he's focused on educating consumers on eating healthy while cooking at home. He is also launching a crusade to help stabilize our natural environment while developing a human consumption market for invasive and nuisance species such as: alligator, wild boar, snow geese, and is now working on a solution to the invasion of Asian carp.
Parola has been featured in The New York Times, Gourmet and Cooking Light magazines, and The China Post, among others. He's also been featured on television shows on CNN, PBS, Fox News and the BBC, as well as appearing on "Extreme Cuisine with Jeff Corwin" on the Food Network.
Parola, a Louisiana resident, came to our region not merely to cook delicious fish but also to tell people about his Asian carp solution.
The Asian carp was introduced to the U.S. in the 1970s to keep aquaculture facilities clean.
Flooding helped them escape into the wild and they have been eating their way up the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes ever since. These fish, which can eat up to 40 percent of their weight in plankton each day, decimate food sources for all other fish and damage the ecosystem.
Various methods of controlling the Asian carp have
been attempted, including electronic barriers near Lake
Michigan. These barriers cost about $20,000 each day to operate and have not been entirely successful. Parola has another idea.
"If you can't beat them, let's eat them," he said. Then he showed the crowd how to debone the carp.
Bones have been one of the main barriers to successfully introducing the Asian carp as a food source in the United States. According to Parola, diners in other countries expect bones in their fish but not here. The chef tried to interest restaurants in serving this fish but it takes too much time in a fast-paced kitchen to make the dish worthwhile.
Then Parola had another idea. Why not process the fish in large numbers then sell it ready-to-eat?
Working with SIU Carbondale's Fisheries and Illinois Aquaculture Center, which had received a $1.1 million grant to find ways to use Asian carp to help the fishing industry, Parola indentified and helped develop technology that will efficiently debone and filet. These new techniques will use the entire fish. From steaks to oil to fertilizer, nothing will go to waste at the new plant, soon to open in Grafton.
But, of course, the big question is: How's the fish?
"It's light; it doesn't have that overly fishy taste," said Toshia Solano of Murphysboro. "It kind of tastes like scallops."
Six-year-old Marit Peterson of Carbondale agreed that the fish tastes great but said, "My mom is a good cook but I don't think she'd like to do that part."
"You mean cut up the fish?" her mother asked.
"Yes, that part." Marit doesn't have to worry, because Parola has that covered.