In classic Island Creek fashion, my last few weeks on the farm have been packed with some incredible memories. That’s right. One week and counting.
I don’t think I’ve made any official announcements on this site, so here goes: This spring, I got a book deal with St. Martin’s Press. The book, titled SHUCKED, will be a memoir about my time at Island Creek, about leaving the real world to get my hands dirty on an oyster farm, and about my relationship with a farm, a town, and its people. Sadly, my time is almost up but the good news is that I get to take a few months off to write before my deadline in February. If all goes as planned, the book will be out next fall… just in time for peak oyster season.
I won’t dwell on how weepy I’ve been or how I can’t imagine a day without a high five from Skip, a smile from Shore, or a hug from CJ. Because while it’s way too sad for me to put into words just yet, it’s a happy reality for me to face. Not to mention, I don’t have time to be sad what with the way I’ve been spending my days and nights.
This week, the insanity started at the Chefs Collaborative National Summit. I spent Monday sitting in on panels listening to some pretty incredible voices weigh in on the current state of our seafood supply. Chefs Jasper White and Ana Sortun were part of the introductory session and gave some entertaining commentary on how they got connected with local, sustainable cooking. A few of their comments:
Jasper: I was frustrated with the seafood supply so I started my own wholesale company. It was so much red tape, that was five years ago, but I did it so I could get control of my supply. I tell every chef, “you have the right to see what we’re doing. Get up at 4 a.m., and come see what we do. Come to the auction, come see what it means to get 6,000 pounds of local swordfish in and what we do with it.”
Ana: I think culinary schools should get back in touch with the seasons. At the school I went to [La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine], they had us rip up recipes that weren’t in season. We cooked from what was available.
Jasper: [On sustainability lists] The focal point should be on environment instead of a single species. Keep the oceans clean. We’ll figure out how to grow it. And we promise, we’ll make it taste good.
My next stop was a panel called The Gulf Oil Disaster: What Will Become of our Domestic Seafood Supply? where the discussion was heated. Margaret Curole, an advocate for Louisiana fishermen, was hoarse from all of the speaking she’s done since the spill, and was the loudest dissenter of the group. She was frustrated that certain fishing areas had been opened prematurely and even more frustrated with the promotions boards which are pushing for people to eat Gulf seafood. She argued that they are putting pressure on those fishermen to fish when the fishermen themselves are still seeing oil in the water. Chef Stephen Stryjewski, co-owner of Cochon (who, like a true New Orleanian, referred to my favorite bivalves as “ersters”) explained that oystermen were losing most of their crop not from oil, but from the fresh water diversion the government approved back in May — it was meant to save the oyster beds but all of that fresh water has done more harm than good.
After lunch, I checked in on a panel called Is Local Sustainable? A Look at New England Fisheries, where chef Michael Leviton sat down with three fishermen to discuss their reasoning for supporting local fisheries. Two of the fishermen have started community supported fisheries, one from Port Clyde, ME, the other down in Barnstable while Adam Fuller, a former chef talked about becoming a lobsterman with Snappy Lobster in order to open up the supply chain. Their message was: Get to know your local fisherman, learn what’s in season, and buy local when you can. Leviton took it one step further, from the chef’s perspective: Support local…at the highest quality.
A final panel of the current state of food writing had me intrigued as Tom Philpott of Grist.org, Corby Kummer of The Atlantic, Jane Black of the Washington Post (and soon to be author), Corie Brown of ZesterDaily.com, and Francis Lam of Salon.com, hashed out what changes they’ve observed in the world of food journalism. Despite the massive shift of media from print to online, each sounded optimistic about coverage as a whole. We’re getting more news, more stories, and more politics… and seeing less of the fluffy, recipe-driven, cooking content (though, there’s still room for that too). What I enjoyed hearing was Philpott’s theory that the elite, holier-than-thou gourmands of the past have become story savvy (I’m paraphrasing). They want to soak in their foie gras… but not before finding out who raised it, packaged it, shipped it, and prepared it.
All encouraging news for someone who writes about food online and in print. Especially considering the project ahead of me.
Tuesday, Skip sat on a panel with fellow oyster folks Jon Rowley and Poppy Tooker. Our friend, author Rowan Jacobsen moderated the discussion, which ended with a tasting of east coast, gulf, and west coast oysters. Chris, Shore and I shucked for the group while Skip encouraged the audience to get to know its purveyors and buy from reputable sources.
Tuesday night, we put together a pretty epic oyster table at Eastern Standard: John Finger of Hog Island Oysters was in town so Chris, Shore and I sat down with he and Rowan, as well as ES proprietor Garrett Harker for one of the most luxurious wine dinners I’ve ever experienced. ES wine director Colleen Hein opened some insane bottles, including a mindblowingly rich H. Billiot brut reserve grand cru… an absolute stunner with our selection of oysters.
And, it was a perfect way to celebrate Bug’s 26th birthday, which we did more of on Wednesday. Jeremy Sewall (chef at the new restaurant) very thoughtfully offered to cook for Shore’s entire group of friends…inside the almost-ready Island Creek Oyster Bar space. It was the perfect ICO meal: sharing plates, standing at the table, dunking chunks of lobster into butter, passing the wine, and putting down piles of beer. I share these photos reluctantly — and only because they take place in the kitchen.
Just wait until you see the space. Any day now… I promise.