Capt. Wild Bill, Luke Wholey team up for seafood fundraiser in Pittsburgh
Bill Wichrowski says he loves the taste of fresh crab meat so much that he could eat it every day.
And often, he does just that, when he's piloting his crab fishing boat Cape Caution as Capt. “Wild Bill” on the Discovery Channel's reality series, “Deadliest Catch.”
The popular TV show, recently renewed for its 12th season, portrays the dangerous and competitive world of the commercial crab-fishing industry aboard fishing vessels based in the Aleutian Islands port of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on the Bering Sea.
Wichrowski, who grew up in Irwin and graduated from Norwin High School in 1975, chose a seafaring career after he moved to the West Coast and served four years with the U.S. Navy. He says it was the lucrative pay that lured him to become a commercial crab fisherman after his military service ended.
He spent the next 20 years working his way up from deck hand to captain. He left Alaska in 2005 with a plan to semi-retire and run sport-fishing tours out of Costa Rica and Mexico. The producers of “Deadliest Catch” convinced him to return to crab fishing in 2010. Two years later, his son, Zack Larson, joined his crew on the Cape Caution.
During summer months, while he's on hiatus until the show's new season — and crabbing season — begin, Wichrowski has time to pursue other interests, including helping with fundraisers he supports. In his spare time, he fishes for pleasure in warmer waters with friends he's made from the Carolinas to the Florida Keys.
“He often ends up being the chef at summer cookouts and has prepared impressive seafood spreads for large groups,” says Kimberly Flaherty, a former classmate of Wichrowski's at Norwin, who handles his publicity.
Last summer he did a salmon feed for 45 or 50 people at NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s place in North Carolina.
“Now it's an annual event,” Wichrowski says. “Everywhere I go, I end up doing the cooking, because seafood is my forte.”
“Wild Bill” won't be preparing the fresh crabs at Luke Wholey's Wild Alaskan Grille in the Strip District, but he will be sharing fish stories about sea life on the Cape Caution, meeting with fans and hosting a fundraising event on May 12.
The “Wild & Wholey Alaskan Crab Feast” is a benefit for the Pittsburgh Emergency Medicine Foundation.
Wholey's staff will prepare a menu featuring his signature sushi, Wild Alaskan Roll, consisting of tempura king crab in pink soy wrapper with avocado, cucumber and tobiko served with mango coulis sauce. Guests will have a choice between king crab salad and crab bisque, followed by the entree — 2 pounds of steamed king crab legs served with drawn butter, mashed potatoes and char-grilled asparagus.
Featured auction items will include an autographed print by Pittsburgh artist Dave DiCello; autographed Pittsburgh sports apparel; shirts, hats and other swag from Capt. Wild Bill, Bass2Bowfish and Grundens USA and gift card from Wholey's Wild Alaskan Grille. After a reception, dinner and the auction, at 9 p.m. guests will watch the latest episode of “Deadliest Catch.”
Wholey says he and Wichrowski have developed a friendship over their mutual passion for fishing. Wholey worked in Alaska for three years as a commercial salmon fisherman and fishing guide before opening his restaurant.
When Wholey has a day off, he typically heads to the Allegheny River in northwestern Pennsylvania, where his prize catches include a 45-inch musky he and his fishing buddy Nicholas Colangelo nabbed while ice fishing in February.
Capt. Bill says his first fishing adventures as a young boy took place in Loyalhanna Creek in Ligonier and Twin Lakes in Hempfield. These days, he's more likely to be big-game fishing for marlin and sailfish in Mexico, where he lives during the off-season. He still has family in Westmoreland County, where his mother and brother and his family reside.
While he's had “a lot of close calls” in his career, noting that “there are always near-death experiences in crab fishing,” Wichrowski says the excitement of his job when his crew lands a large haul of crabs makes it all worthwhile.
“Once you reach that level of adrenalin, it's hard to fill that gap,” he says.
The tastiest crab Bill Wichrowski spends nearly half of the year onboard th e Cape Cautionin the Bering Sea — when working conditions are the worst and the weather is the coldest — during the Alaskan king crab, snow crab and bairdi crab fishing seasons.
“It's a rough environment, in the dead of winter,” he says. “The way crabs are genetically, they're ready to harvest at the worst time of the year.”
He says red king crabs are “the Kentucky Derby of crab,” most revered for their taste and size, followed by blue king crab, which are more athletic and harder to catch, with a different muscle texture. Snow crabs are most common up and down the East Coast. His favorite crab — for both flavor and texture — is the bairdi crab, which he says is “like snow crab on steroids .”
Easy Alaskan King Crab Legs Luke Wholey says Capt. Bill taught him an easy way to prepare Alaskan king crab Legs. Because nearly all crab legs come precooked from the market, they require only a few minutes in the steamer to heat them.
To break the crab legs, start with the pointer claw, and bend and crack each of the 5 joints and take out the tendons. Using kitchen shears, cut the crab legs into 1-inch pieces.
Drop the pieces into a colander or steamer over boiling water, reduce heat and steam in the shell for 2 minutes. Be careful not to overcook, or the meat will be tough. Remove the pieces from the water; the crab meat can easily be taken out of the shell.
Serve with drawn butter.