By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing Writer
The Daily Star
---- — It is more than just the seafood that compels Neal Cooke to come to work every day. He is fascinated by every aspect of fish as a food source.
Cooke, owner of Captn Cook’s Seafood Market at 4 South Main St. in Oneonta, has been in the fish business for most of his life. A Florida native, Cooke said he was fishing as a toddler. Later, when he moved to Colorado, one thing he missed was fresh ocean fish.
“I had gotten into the mortgage business out of college,” Cooke said. “And I’d go to the Farmers’ Markets, and they didn’t have any fresh seafood, so I thought I’d bring in fish at the wholesale level. Next thing you know, I am providing fish for five Farmers’ Markets.”
Deep sea fishing continued to be a passion for Cooke, who would fish out of San Diego, often as a guide for clients. As the demand for fresh seafood continued to increase in Lupton, Colo., where Cooke resided, he decided to open a sea food restaurant and sushi bar. He later moved the restaurant to Longmont, Colo., where he met Maryam Dadkahah, who led him to Oneonta.
“Maryam was getting her Ph.D. at Colorado State, and she was offered a job at SUNY in Oneonta,” Cooke said. “I didn’t even know how to pronounce the name of the city. But I did a lot of research and came here to visit. I saw that there was not a lot choices for fresh seafood.”
Captn Cook’s Seafood Market has as its slogan, “Impeccably Fresh,” and Cooke means it. He personally selects the fish and shellfish he brings into the store, often as whole fish to be filleted by Cooke when it is purchased. The store keeps fresh fish for two days, and then Cooke freezes the inventory for discounted sales.
“I come in here a lot,” said Patrick Baynes, of Oneonta, as he shopped for fish Thursday. “I eat fish about every other day. It is healthy. I love getting the fresh fish here. It is so much better for you.”
Captn Cook’s also sells sushi, crab cakes, Hawaiian tuna poke (pronounced pokay) and ceviche, a Mexican seafood salad. Customers are welcome to eat at one of the small bistro tables in the seafood shop or carry the prepared food out.
Cooke hopes to offer sushi classes soon, and has had several all-you-can eat sushi dinners. He also tries to find unique items such as shad roe, Mako shark and octopus. Everything he brings in is listed on Captn Cook’s Seafood Market Facebook site, as well as on his in-store chalkboard. Also list on the Facebook sites are recipes, “happy hour” specials, pictures and requests from friends for unique seafood.
Another aspect to the seafood market is its commitment to sustainability. Cooke will only support seafood operations that are committed to preserving the ocean’s ecosystem. The like-mindedness of many Oneonta residents is one of the things he found attractive about the area.
“As our population grows we have to be careful about overfishing,” Cooke said. “There are many species that are in danger of being fished out. Some fish like the orange roughy, it takes them 25 years to mature.”