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Peoria Area Playing Role In Statewide Asian Carp Cookout

People all across Illinois will be able to try Asian carp dishes for free on Saturday, with two Peoria-area sites among the participating locations.

Sponsored by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Asian carp cookout will serve fish from the Illinois River provided by the Sorce Freshwater Company and the Midwest Fish Co-op.

“The whole premise of this is to shine some light and raise the awareness of Asian carp that we are currently ... harvesting out of the Peoria pool,” said Ray Lees, planning program manager for the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission. “The intent is to really expose to general public the Asian carp as a food source, as a protein source.”

The meals will be available at Kelleher’s Restaurant on Water Street in Peoria, and in East Peoria’s Levee District on Washington Street near the Target parking lot. Both locations will serve from 11 a.m-1 p.m.

Three Chicago locations also are participating, as well as sites in Springfield, Quincy, Carbondale and Carterville. Dining halls at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and Southern Illinois University in Carbondale also will serve Asian carp dishes.

Roy Sorce, owner of Sorce Freshwater, said each location has been encouraged to offer “chef-inspired” recipes. Kelleher’s will serve a choice of its regular Asian carp specials, while the Levee District location will have a chef provided by Sorce.     

“I’ve not had many people say, ‘Oh, you know, I don’t like this at all.’ I’ve had people that don’t like fish try it and not know it was fish,” said Sorce. “It doesn’t have a strong fish taste like a salmon or cod or something like that. It’s a very mild white fish, very clean white fish that has a lot of versatility to it.”

Lees said the invasive species is actually a sustainable resource, with between 10,000-15,000 pounds of Asian carp processed every day.

“It has the capability, or the estimated amount on an annual basis, of about 15 million pounds that can be harvested,” Lees said. “So it’s a significant economic as well as a nutritional issue for the area.”

Sorce said his company processes the whole Asian carp as a zero-waste resource, with portions that aren’t used for food turned into fertilizer – with a long-term goal of also producing bait. He added that changing the public image of the maligned and misunderstood fish is key.

“We’re trying to create market awareness so that people don’t just think they’re bottom-feeders like a regular carp is, or they’re dirty fish and things like that,” said Sorce. “That even though they are invasive species, there is a lot of good attributes of these fish.”

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The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is sponsoring a statewide Asian carp cookout Saturday, continuing efforts to try and change the fish's image.
John Flesher / AP
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is sponsoring a statewide Asian carp cookout Saturday, continuing efforts to try and change the fish's image.

Joe Deacon is a reporter at WCBU.