Can you describe your first meeting with Chef Tom Douglas?

Chef Tom Douglas is a culinary icon, a legendary chef of the Pacific Northwest.  For many years I have studied his regionally inspired recipes, which have appeared in all the best cooking magazines and of course his own James Beard Award-winning cookbook.  It was such a thrill to have the opportunity to work with Chef Tom in his kitchen and collaborate on a limited-time sandwich for Mendocino Farms. I quickly learned that Tom is not just a great chef, but a super nice guy with a fun sense of humor, who follows his passions with vigor.  

What was the inspiration for the collab sandwich?

Chef Tom is very passionate about supporting Bristol Bay, an incredible natural resource that is responsible for producing something like 46% of all the sockeye salmon in the world. We have never offered salmon at Mendocino Farms, or even cooked any type of fish from raw in our stores before, but I could sense Tom’s passion, and we love a good challenge!  Thus the starting point was born…delicious sustainable salmon!  

Tell us more about the culinary process for the Sockeye Salmon Roll:

For the first phase, Chef Tom invited me up to his kitchen in Seattle, and he cooked up a few different sandwiches for us to taste.  These were rough sketches of different possible concepts to kick off the conversation.  From there, we discussed and brainstormed, and decided there was something catchy about the idea of a fish taco riffed into a sandwich.  That jives well with how we do things at Mendocino Farms, as we love to innovate by riffing traditionally non-sandwich types of foods we love into sandwich form.  So, we agreed on a few changes, and Chef Tom whipped up one more version of the sandwich the following day.  With that, we both had a clear vision of what we were shooting for. 

For the second phase, I headed back to my R&D kitchen in LA, to develop the recipes and further refine the sandwich.  I made each of the components several times (i.e. the chipotle aioli, the lime slaw, etc) until the balance of ingredients was just right in each of them.  Then, I had to tie it into our production line and determine the best method of execution on our equipment.  The two trickiest parts were finding the right bread and determining the best method for prepping and cooking the salmon with consistency.  We ended up with using a “lobster roll” type of brioche bun, which gets buttered & toasted.  For the salmon, we’re portioning in advance, but seasoning and cooking to order via our high heat impinging oven, which cooks it very fast.  If we can get our teams to cut the fish to spec, then this oven makes it easy for us to hit a perfect medium rare every time, since the time and temperature are fixed.  The only variable is the size of the pieces of fish.  In contrast, if we were to cook the fish on a griddle, you could expect every piece to be cooked a little differently, which is not where we want to be.  

Finally, after presenting the sandwich to my R&D team on two or three occasions, and with all final tweaks in place, we arrived at a compelling, craveable sandwich that is ready to train and launch.

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. What is the final “taste approved” sandwich?

Behold the Sockeye Salmon Roll! Resembling a lobster roll with a unique twist, this special creation features sustainable Bristol Bay wild sockeye salmon, seasoned with Chef Tom’s Rub with Love Fish Taco Spice. It’s tucked into a fluffy, crusty, buttered, toasted brioche bun, with a swipe of smoky chipotle aioli, and a couple slices of avocado. It’s topped with Cosmic Crisp apple-lime slaw, which has Washington apples, sliced cabbage, radish, fresh dill, mint, and lime for a burst of flavor, texture, and local flair.  It’s unlike any sandwich we’ve ever served at Mendocino Farms, and I’m very excited to share this with guests at both of our Seattle locations.