Chef Rapp: Releasing Fish by Day, Cooking Them by Night

Kyle Schaefer

Photo: Kyle Schaefer

Jesse Rapp lives in the beautiful Yampa Valley of Steamboat Springs, CO. He has a unique make up: he’s 1/3 catch-and-release fly fishing guide, 1/3 fourth-generation descendant of commercial fishermen from Gloucester, and 1/3 chef and restaurant consultant at some of the finest establishments in the mountains of Colorado.

Jesse’s day starts by guiding his fly fishing clients to cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout in small, delicate streams and rivers that are filled with cold, clear water by the melting of high alpine snow. He watches and guides with a smile as he helps guests of the river return these mountain jewels back to their home waters.

Jesse comes from a long line of Rapps that are based in Gloucester, Massachusetts. His family has worked the North Atlantic for generations, targeting lobster, bluefin tuna, cod, and anything else that is profitable and accessible for the family. Jesse’s profession as a catch-and-release trout guide has certainly baffled his family back in Gloucester. Jesse visited back east several years ago and informed his family about his catch-and-release exploits in CO. The Rapps did their best to wrap their heads around the proposition. His uncle exclaimed in a thick Gloucester accent, “so let me get this straight, you take people fishing, work hard to help catch them a trout, and then let it go… and people pay good money for this Jesse?!”

The fact is that people do pay good money for such an experience, sometimes upwards of $150 to access special waters, plus an additional $350 for a guided day. $500 just to watch a trout swim away? More like $500 for memories that will last a lifetime. For some, $500 is a very reasonable fee for the privilege to step into a pristine environment and be apart of the landscape for the day, leaving as little impact behind as possible.

When Jesse gets off the river he trades his waders for a chef’s apron. Jesse quietly sifts through offerings from hundreds of his suppliers as he places orders of fish and shellfish for Yama, a high-end sushi, steak and seafood restaurant in downtown Steamboat Springs. His orders are like a puzzle, predicting the tastes of his guests, while being sensitive to overfished and depleted stocks of fish and shellfish. Jesse and other chef’s are in an interesting position. They are at the frontlines where supply and demand hits the dinner plate. Chef’s can affect significant change, making responsible choices that help support our oceans on a worldwide scale. Jesse’s seafood is flown in daily from places like Alaska, Maine, and Hawaii. He is constantly checking his Seafood Watch app looking for solutions that taste amazing. Artic Char has made its way to the menu, replacing overfished alternatives and is rated as a “best choice” on the handy app.

Jesse’s relationship with sensitive environments like the Yampa River and the trout that live there has given him a unique perspective as a chef. He observes the effects that humans have on the valley whether it’s through the lens of climate change, warming summers, lack of rain or simply removing too many fish from the system. Jesse brings this perspective to his culinary arts, and our marine fisheries are better off because of it. Jesse also understands the challenges of growing up in a commercial fishing family. He’s seen the collapse of cod and the economic effect it’s had on his family; he’s witnessed the fishing target list change as stocks fluctuate and become less abundant. Because of these experiences Jesse has morphed into an unusually well rounded chef and fly fishing guide, releasing fish in the morning, cooking them up in the afternoon and maintaining deep familial roots in the Gloucester commercial fishing world.

Each species of fish, body of water, and ecosystem all have their distinct personalities that come with complicated sets of challenges. The better we understand how to live within the confines of these challenges the healthier our planet will be. Just like Jesse purchasing sustainable fish from near and far, we as consumers have the same power to stay informed, and vote with our dollars everyday. Our oceans are a vital resource feeding one billion people everyday. The more we know, the smarter we can shop, the smarter we will eat and our planet will thank us by providing continued nourishment. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch App, and see just how your eating habits fit into the equation.

About Kyle Schaefer

Kyle Schaefer is a fly-fishing guide in southern Maine by summer, bonefish lodge manager by winter and conservationist every day of the year.

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