Boil Master and Owner of Pelletier’s Restaurant in Fish Creek
Name: Matthew Peterson
Occupation: Boil Master and Owner of Pelletier’s Restaurant in Fish Creek
Lives in: Sister Bay
Claim to fame: He’s been owner and boil master at Pelletier’s Restaurant for 14 years and owner of Casey’s BBQ and Smokehouse in Egg Harbor for six years. Pelletier’s has more than 1,200 fish boils every season.
Favorite Door County activities: I work a lot, but when I have time off, I do a lot of hunting and fishing. I just planted a small orchard of apple, cherry, plum and pear trees, and I am also tending to my first vegetable garden.
Q. How long have you been a boil master?
A. It’s my 31st season as a boil master — I started when I was 18 with my father, Dan Peterson, up at the Viking Grill in Ellison Bay, where he has been the owner and boil master since 1984. My father started helping out with fish boils when he was a young boy, at my grandfather’s tavern. So it’s a family affair!
Q. What are fish boils?
Fish boils themselves have been a tradition in Door County for more than 150 years. They started off as an economical and efficient way to feed large groups of lumberjacks, then became popular for social or church gatherings at beaches and parks. Today, fish boils are a feature at a number of local restaurants. We cater, and can take the kettle and ingredients offsite, so fish boils can also be a great addition to celebrations and parties — including rehearsal dinners held prior to the many destination weddings that are held in Door County.
At Pelletier’s, we boil every 30 minutes from 5-8 p.m., which is seven boils every night, so visitors have a chance to see a boil-over every half hour. A boil-over is the dramatic finish to the fish boil — I throw a can of oil under the boiling cauldron, which makes the flames flare and shoot up to 20 feet in the air, and the layer of fish oil that rises to the top of the pot boils over with the water. If you get there early enough, you can see two or three boils for some pre-dinner excitement.
Q. What are the ingredients in a fish boil?
A. We boil fresh caught Lake Michigan whitefish. The fish is caught daily, and it makes my life and job so much easier to work with a fresh product every day — not a lot of people in the restaurant business can say that. And it’s all caught locally by commercial fishermen, so we get to support local fisherman and they get to support us by providing a fresh product.
We also boil baby red potatoes and small sweet onions. The kettle I use contains 35 gallons of water and 10 pounds of salt per boil. The amount of fish, potato and onion varies depending how many people have reservations.
Q. Why should visitors put a fish boil on their itineraries?
A. It’s a really unique experience in and of itself — you get a taste of the local tradition and cuisine in a festive and memorable atmosphere. It’s also a social experience. You can come with your family or your friends and witness the fire, but you also have a chance to get involved and ask me questions about the process.
It’s awesome to see more young couples and kids eating our fish boils — all types of people like to make the fish boil a tradition, and I’m happy to predict that fish boils will continue in Door County for many more years.
Q. What is the best part of your job?
A. I’ve become friends with a lot of the customers I‘ve met throughout the years. I see them on a yearly basis, or several times a year, which is neat. Having been at Pelletier’s for 14 years, I have seen families grow and kids grow up. I also love answering all the questions from customers every night. The boil-over is pretty fun, but my favorite part is eating the food! I sit down and eat the fish boil twice a week, and taste the fish every night.