It appears the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul have fallen under the spell of Gloucester and its seafood.
On Monday night, Angela Sanfilippo of the Fishermen's Wives Association, longtime fisherman Al Cottone and former Gloucester Mayor John Bell — along with J.J. Bartlett of the Fishing Partnership Support Services — were the true centerpieces in a food-and-film gala that highlighted the plight of American commercial fishermen and the bounty that is Gloucester seafood.
The sold-out event, titled From Sea to Sustainable Sea: Supporting American Wild Seafood, combined the Midwest premier of the Gloucester-centric fishing documentary "Dead in the Water" by Rockport native David Wittkower sandwiched between a cocktail hour and a seafood feast featuring Gloucester-landed monkfish, redfish, crabs, lobsters and other seafood delights.
"It was just amazing the way it all unfolded," said Rebecca Bell Sorensen, daughter of the former mayor and now a resident of the Twin Cities. "The food was incredible, but the reaction of the crowd to the Gloucester story and the challenges our commercial fishermen face was both passionate, heart-felt and emotional.
"As soon as they heard the real voice of Gloucester, people literally had tears in their eyes listening to the speakers."
Sorensen was the driving force behind bringing the Gloucester story to the Twin Cities suburb of St. Louis Park, but she got plenty of local assistance.
Wittkower's powerful film was screened as part of the Twin Cities Film Fest and the ensuing seafood feast and panel discussion were made possible with the cooperation of a contingent of upper-echelon chefs from local eateries, the Minneapolis-based seafood dealer The Fish Guys and the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association.
"We've always known that a real test of the film's message is whether people got very angry and upset about the issue after watching the film," Sanfilippo said. "Well, that's what happened there."
Two elements quickly became clear:
Most of the audience had no sense of the scale of problems facing U.S. commercial fishermen due to government regulation, climate change, and the shifting economics of commercial fishing.
"They really knew nothing about it," Cottone said.
Also, the film's message of a traditional, family-based American food industry in peril particularly resonated with the audience because of its collective personal connections and experiences with similar challenges facing family-operated farms in American agricultural communities.
"People were really receptive and you could tell they were moved by it," Cottone said. "They kept asking how can this happen to American fishermen. And they could relate to that because of what has happened to family farms."
At one point in the panel discussion, according to Sorensen, the moderator asked the audience how many had relatives, friends or other connections in the farming industry.
"About 75 percent raised their hands," she said.
And then there was the food.
Sanfilippo had a spare couple minutes on her hands, so she whipped up about 180 cod cakes for the pre-screening reception that featured dark-and-stormies (Goslings dark rum and ginger beer) as the signature drink.
"One of the best parts for me was when Angela's cod cakes came out," Sorensen said. "You could see people trying them and then telling others, who also tried them. It was like a feeding frenzy. They were gone in no time."
The rest of the Gloucester bounty was prepared in a variety of styles by the local, award-winning chefs, some exotic and almost all of them different from Gloucester's usual Sicilian-influenced recipes.
"The food was unbelievable," Cottone said. "It was all our fish, but prepared much differently than how we normally do it at home. But it was obvious that when you put our seafood in the hands of a professional like these chefs, it takes it to a whole different level."
The respect cut both ways.
The folks that run The Fish Guys, which hosted a tour at their sprawling processing center for the Gloucester contingent, were so impressed with the repast that they said they are determined to bring even more Gloucester seafood to the Twin Cities area.
Sorensen said her email in-box has been full since the event, with messages from people asking where in the Twin Cities they can land some Gloucester seafood of their own. Others, she said, just want to know how they can help the fishermen.
"I think this even changed people as consumers," she said. "They've become crusaders for wild-caught, American seafood."
Chef Tim McKee, an executive vice president at The Fish Guys and a local culinary celebrity, said he wants to come to Gloucester this summer and go out fishing with Cottone. Others zeroed in on the annual St. Peter's Fiesta as the focal point for a possible visit to America's oldest seaport for some summer seafood.
"An event like this really gives you hope that there's a nation out there craving new information for what going on in their fisheries," Bell said. "If you were there and from Gloucester, it would have made you really proud of who we are as a community and who we are as harvesters of the freshest fish out of the oceans."
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.