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And just like that, we’re planning Oyster Fest again.
Shore and I sat down with this year’s committee two weeks ago which means the process is underway –we’ve got just over 5 months to pull the 3,000 person beach party together. I’m not losing sleep over it yet. But talk to me in August.
Thankfully, we’re using a similar set up to last year (tent size, footprint, general schedule and set up) with a few new tweaks (new headlining band, updated list of chefs, a little more control).
But right now, I’m thinking about the pigs.
Last night, CJ and I shucked oysters for the VIP room at Cochon 555 (I went to as a guest last year). We had the good fortune of meeting a potential pig farmer as well as a number of cool Johnson & Wales culinary students who very kindly donated their time. CJ repaid them by giving them a valuable shucking demo – we even put a few behind the raw bar.
It was good to get back there and shuck for a crowd again. Sometimes I get weighed down by all that we have going on but once you’re standing back there, it’s nothing but you and your crew, shucking as quick as you can (and looking up now and then to see some smiling faces). We’ve got loads of raw bars coming up: Save the Harbor this Wednesday, CentralBottle’s $1 Oyster Night this Thursday, the Nantucket Wine Fest in May. My job is to coordinate the logistics of all of our events. Well, at least that’s one of them. I seem to be wearing all kinds of hats these days.
As I shape and reshape this experience, my role is constantly shifting. My time in the office has been eye-opening. Being so closely connected to the nerve center of this tiny machine and directly involved in big discussions, I’ve gotten full exposure to every part of Island Creek. We’re having in-depth conversations about who we are, where we’re going and how we stick to our core. This winter, Shore and Skip have been crafting Island Creek’s purpose and core values. We’ve initiated a rebranding campaign (hiring the very cool and talented Oat Creative, who are a pleasure to work with) and we’re pulling together a structured sales and marketing program. Though the company, Island Creek Inc. has been operating for a few years, they’ve been so busy getting the job done that they haven’t had time to do things like put a mission statement on paper or take a closer look at their logo (the first one was scribbled on a napkin). This year, I’ve been lucky enough to catch them while they slow down, take a breath and figure out where to go next.
Of course, everyone pitches in wherever they can. So in between setting up events, I’m visiting restaurants for sales, ordering new tshirts and raw bars, doing quality control in the shop, and yes, sometimes taking out the trash. But so is everyone else in the office (even CJ who provides levity when he’s not making deliveries).
But that’s what makes it fun. It might be a small business but there’s a lot of heart and soul. And plenty of work to be done.
For those keeping track (hi, Mom), this week marked my one-year anniversary with the farm. My supposed end-date, in fact. I meant to give this whole project a single year. But, as with many of my big ideas, plans have changed.
Turns out, I found a place that I like going to every day, where my work and contributions are appreciated and where the people I work with genuinely love what they do. It’s everything I thought I would find and so much more. So I’ve committed to at least another summer and maybe a little fall. Strategically, this works out well since it’ll lengthen my stay to about 18 months — and that just happens to be the typical life cycle of our oysters. Fitting, no?
So many things that started out feeling foreign to me are now natural parts of my day: commuting 45 minutes to work; driving down to the harbor just to make sure it’s still there; understanding what makes a perfect three-inch oyster; hearing the chickens squawk just outside our windows; that unmistakable briny sweetness of every Island Creek.
It feels good to have these consistencies now, to know a place and a product so well that they’re rooted inside me. I wouldn’t still be here if it hadn’t resonated so deeply. More importantly, I’m thankful I took the risk. Not once have I looked back.
And here we are, back at the International Seafood Show, getting ready for spring. Pretty soon the water will warm up and the seed we planted last fall will start showing signs of growth. I’m looking forward to hitting the tide and seeing how all our babies have handled the winter. What’s better is that I’ll be around in September to see the first of it come out of the water.
Whether or not that will signal some sort of exit strategy is still up for debate. But that’s a long ways off. Until then, I’ve got seed to watch over.
Up until a few weeks ago I’d never eaten a freshly laid hen egg.
I’ve bought plenty of eggs directly from farms at farmer’s markets. And I’ve ordered dozens of dishes with farm-fresh eggs at locally focused menus (Craigie on Main, TW Food, Straight Wharf Restaurant). But fresh, right-from-the-coop eggs? Never.
And now, I’m flush. Or I should we. Our office and the crew at Island Creek are literally swimming in extra eggs. We have six lovely chickens (lead by the large black-feathered mistress, Rachelle) who have been laying like fiends. Billy Bennett checks their pen a few times a day (as do Cory, CJ, and Skip whenever they pass by) and step into the the office carefully cradling 2, 3, sometimes 4 eggs gingerly in their palms. Defying all chicken myth (I’m hearing more and more these days) that hens only lay when there are 14 hours of sunlight or with the help of a heat lamp, our girls are on a speedy daily rotation.
Perhaps its their diet. Billy feeds them razor clams, which they love. They also peck away at the oyster shell driveway picking up whatever meaty bits they find along the way. The result has been really durable shells that are actually tough to crack. And the yolks are a deep, marigold yellow – unlike anything I’ve ever seen out of a grocery store. As the color promises, they taste richer too. Dense and earthy. Almost meaty when cooked. Even raw, they’re thick and don’t ooze easily, more like a lava than a watery trickle.
The other day, Cory confessed that he picked up a faint “fishy” flavor to the eggs. Not sure I’d agree with him but I love that there’s that possibility. What I love even more is that I’ve gotten so close to my food that I can literally pick an egg out of a coop (or an oyster off the flats) and eat it for breakfast. Can’t wait to get started on the ICO garden.
Yes, it’s cold out there (still). But there are some mighty wonderful perks to working on an oyster farm in the winter. One being that you’re allowed to trade one beach for another.
During the insanity of the summer, it was hard to believe we’d ever get a break or that I’d ever recover from the physical (and, um, mental) exhaustion. But as with the tide and the cycle of farming, there are ebbs and flows. Now, it’s clear to me why things just have to slow down in the winter. Your body — and mind — need a break.
After 2 months in the office, it seemed that break would never come. Sure, I’m now sitting behind a desk instead of laboring under crates and freezing temps on the farm. But that means very little in terms of the amount of work I’ve accomplished since Jan 1. There was the madness of the Stout launch as well as a series of back-to-back shucking events. At at the tail end of it came the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, which we made our way home from late last night.
The Festival served a few purposes for Island Creek: to get the brand in front of some well-known chefs and to introduce food lovers to the convenience of our online store (ahem: you can order our oysters direct to your door). As the temporary marketing chica, I went down to show off all the things I’d learned (and love) about ICO.
The dynamic, I have to admit, was a little weird for me. In the past, I’ve attended these events as a member of the press, or in some cases just for fun. I would go to eat and drink, to pick up story ideas, and of course, to shmooze. I never pictured myself on the other side of it working the events as a part of the staff and dealing with the logistics of moving to and fro while catering to a crowd.
But after shucking at three events in a whirlwind 28-hour period, I’m satisfied to say, I prefer being on the other side.
A quick rundown on why:
— Watching The Ace of Cakes cast fall in love with our oysters and our tshirts.
— Shucking side by side with Chefs Daniel Boulud and Ken Oringer.
— Marching the raw bar down Collins Ave at 3 a.m. behind a pair of 3-inch heels (and then sitting down to a late-late-late night dinner of pizza, hummus, and brie).
— Setting up at The Delano (sadly, without being able to take home a Tiffany’s box)
— And if all that weren’t enough, enjoying a million laughs with my animated, industrious crew. (Thank you thank you thank you CJ, Shore, Asia & Nicole!)
There are details I’m leaving out but for good reason.
A) My wrists are tired.
B) The pictures tell the best parts of the story.
C) You can find some of the rest on the Island Creek website. (Pssst: We have a news blog. Guess who’s writing it?)