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I made it to Thursday night’s New England shellfish dinner at Rialto and am so glad I did since that’s where I met Rowan Jacobsen. His book, The Geography of Oysters, provides a thorough education of oysters and North American terroir. Not a bad gig: He essentially toured the country trying oysters at every turn and, with tremendous detail and thought, explored the flavors imparted by each waterway he visited.
Put on by the Tour de Champagne, the shellfish dinner had a smaller turnout than it should have. The chefs, Ryan Hardy from Aspen’s The Little Nell, Jody Adams, and Peter Davis (Henrietta’s Table) all did outstanding dishes. Hardy, poor thing, had lost his luggage on the way to Boston so he was wearing one of Davis’s chef’s jackets but was in great spirits – we’d met in Aspen at the Food & Wine Fest last June and he looked happy to be back on the East Coast (he was the chef at the Harbor View Hotel on Martha’s Vineyard before moving to CO).
Shore was there at the beginning of the night and introduced me to Rowan, who clearly has a soft spot for Island Creek. He and a few chefs did a blind, East Coast oyster tasting last April and ICO won hands down. He gave us a sneak preview of his upcoming book — hopefully I’m not giving anything away here. It covers the history of oysters and during his research Rowan learned about an archaeological dig happening off the coast of South Africa which has uncovered what he calls the planet’s first oyster bar. Dating to about 164,000 years ago (give or take), the remains prove that humans were using tools to open shellfish at the very beginning of our evolution. Rowan’s theory is that an oyster (ok, seafood) diet might even be one of the reasons human beings’ brains were able to evolve; seafood is packed with DHA and omega-3s, which are known to help human neurological development.
I mean, holy sh*t. Can the difference between humans and primates really be oysters? I’m looking forward to the book (out in Sept). Honestly I’ve never studied evolution but it all seemed to make sense after a few glasses of Champagne (and really, what doesn’t?). My brother-in-law, Tom, is an evolutionary biologist and a professor at Yale and while he’s currently somewhere near the coast of Antarctica perhaps when he gets back, he can help me sort through all of this… Tom, think you could give me a quick primer on say, the last 200,000 years?
Thanks, Rowan, for a truly enlightening evening.