On the spot: Leah Caplan, Metcalfe’s Markets
After years in the restaurant industry, Leah Caplan was excited to make the shift to executive chef of two-store retailer Metcalfe’s Markets in Madison, Wis., late last year. The former chef and proprietor of the Washington Hotel, Restaurant and Culinary School in Washington Island, Wis., now heads up recipe development and shopper education for the gourmet-style stores that highlight local, organic foods. Caplan is using her experience — she is a founding board member of Slow Food Madison and Home Grown Wisconsin, a farmers cooperative — to promote local and sustainable seafood at Metcalfe’s Markets.
Blank: How are you educating Metcalfe’s customers about seafood?
Caplan: We are helping to educate consumers on how to prepare and select foods, how to shop locally, and how to incorporate healthier and more sustainable choices into their diets and routines. People ask the most questions at the seafood counter. They are asking how to cook seafood and what would be the best fish for a certain preparation. People are still intimidated by seafood. At the moment, we are not doing cooking classes, but we hope to eventually. Also, we hope to provide a chart showing the fish and its best cooking manner that shoppers could take home.
Are you selling more local and sustainable seafood?
Over the holidays, we featured more Lake Michigan smoked whitefish and fresh whitefish. Whitefish is the most consistent local fish. I think it is a delicious product, and I want to keep serving it. The stores had a strong emphasis on local products before I came, but we are trying to ramp it up completely in each department.
What is new with value-added seafood recipes at Metcalfe’s? Which prepared items are most popular?
I have been working with our seafood department to create more value-added products. We have five or six value-added items, including Crab Dijon; Herb Tilapia; Shrimp and Coriander-stuffed Sole; Blue Fish with Capers, Tomatoes and Onions; and Pistachio-Crusted Salmon. We do a seafood gumbo that has been very popular as well as a Lake Michigan whitefish in parchment paper with wine, butter and shallots. We want to add an infinite number of prepared items and rotate them, so we are hiring students from the Madison Area Technical College’s culinary program to help develop recipes.
What else would you like to add to Metcalfe’s fresh seafood departments?
We are about to put in a sectional that divides the fresh seafood case into three sections. We will have some full-cooked items in the case, as well as ready-to-cook items, which could be soup, crab cakes or grilled fish. The other section would be fresh seafood — we have 20 to 35 varieties of fresh seafood on a given day.