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Oyster LoveAugust 19, 2017

My Oyster Bucket List

Goal-setting is a practice that I firmly believe. When you write your intentions down, they are definitely more likely to come true. I don’t have hard data to back this up, but it really does work! So with that in mind, here’s my oyster bucket list.

Ever since stumbling across Peter Jon Lindberg’s mesmerizing and envy-inducing world oyster journey for Travel + Leisure, I’ve been inspired to weave my own international oyster saga.

I had the unbelievable opportunity to travel the world for business during my mid-20’s and made sure to take full advantage of it. It’s not only a thrill to experience oysters from all around the world, but pure joy to meet people who are just as obsessed as you are.

Even now with well over two dozen oyster farm visits under my belt, the hunger hasn’t subsided. There’s still SO much left to discover, still many friends yet to meet. In 2010, I started a food-related “to do” list on my pre-oyster food blog. It’s still online if you care to take a peek. I think I will start to keep track of my top oyster to-do’s as well and see how it goes.

 

My Oyster Bucket List

  1. Visit Australia’s Oyster Coast of NSW and shuck my own oysters
  2. Visit an oyster farm in Tasmania
  3. Attend the Bluff Oyster Festival in New Zealand
  4. Harvest and enjoy Limfjord oysters in Denmark before the Chinese eat them all
  5. Hang out at the Knysna Oyster Festival in South Africa
  6. Visit French oyster country (this might take 1 month) — Normandy, Brittany, Marennes-Oléron
  7. Visit a Croatian oyster farm
  8. Visit oyster farms and friends of the United Kingdom
  9. Hang out with my favorite Canadian oyster friends in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver
  10. Visit the oyster farmers of North Carolina
  11. Visit oyster farms in China
  12. Return to Japan and sample oysters from across the country
  13. Finally make my way to the Western Bay of the Chesapeake (I’m stunned I haven’t done this yet)
  14. Four words: Hama Hama Oyster Rama
  15. Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick oyster land visit needs to happen as well
  16. Teach an oyster master class abroad
  17. Take an oyster master class abroad
  18. Dive for oysters with Glidden Point Oyster Farm

 

What else should be on here?

 

Oyster ToursAugust 18, 2017

Do You Know About the Oyster Trail of Maine?

I’m not sure how I stumbled across this treasure map years ago, but I freaked out (in a good way) when I did. The Oyster Trail of Maine is the brainchild of Catherine Schmitt and Dana Morse from Maine Sea Grant, and it’s growing into something much bigger.

The hope is to turn this directory of oyster goodness below into a full-fledged Oyster Trail of Maine website that visitors, locals, and food professionals can use to organize their own fabulous Maine oyster adventure.

Check out the landing page to learn more about Maine oysters. You can also navigate the points of interest using this key below!

Red pin: Oyster farm tours
My faves being: Nonesuch Oyster Farm, Damariscotta River Cruises

Yellow pin: Buy oysters
My faves being: Harbor Fish Market, Browne Trading Market, and Glidden Point Oyster Farm

Green pin: Eat oysters
My faves being: Eventide Oyster Co., BP Shuck Shack, Scales, Roberts Maine Grill

Blue pin: Know oysters
My faves being: Johns River, Bar Harbor Selects, Glidden Point, Pemaquid, Otter Cove, too many others to list!

 

READ POST: Blazing the Maine Oyster Trail Part 1

Oyster PeopleAugust 10, 2017

In A Nut Shell: Chef Austin Navarre

With tat-laden arms, a Brooklyn-worthy beard, and adorn in apparel promoting every decent raw bar in the country but his own, Austin Navarre doesn’t just have the look of a badass mothershuckin’ chef; he’s the real deal. I met Austin when he was in the midst of opening Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar in Olympia, Washington last fall. One bite of his crisp geoduck salad, chargrilled octopus, and elegantly garnished Chelsea Gem oyster and you’ll be nodding too.

Austin’s menu at Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar changes constantly. If I could go every week, I would. As an early participant in the James Beard Foundation Smart Catch program, Chef Navarre is as conscientious about creating surprising flavor combinations as he is about taking care of the environment. BTW: I’m still reminiscing about those steamed oysters and absinthe butter…

 

Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar
222 Capitol Way N
Olympia, WA 98501
Facebook / Instagram

Oyster Know-HowAugust 5, 2017

How to Style and Photograph Oysters Like a Pro

If you’re in the food business, you know exactly how important aesthetics are to our perception of quality and deliciousness. We eat with our eyes first, after all! When it comes to styling and photographing oysters, a lot can go wrong, even without you knowing it.

In my early blogging days, I would snap and share every platter of oyster that I consumed. Today, I’m quite a bit more selective about which photos to use and what not to share. Gashed bellies? Denied. Dried meats? Adios. It takes a lot now to make it to my Instagram feed, and it’s for good reason. When I see a popular website or magazine share a photo of crappy oysters, it’s basically perpetuating flawed taste. For true oyster nerds, we grimace (and maybe cry a little on the inside) when a butchered plate of oysters is published or shared by an influential chef or writer. Don’t let bad oyster photography happen to you!

Asking a Styling Pro: Adrienne Anderson

So how do you get it right? If you’re looking for oyster styling inspiration and benchmarking, there’s no better book to reference than The Essential Oyster by Rowan Jacobsen, photographed by David Malosh with food stylist Adrienne Anderson. I’m always in awe of good food styling and framing. Adrienne was kind enough to offer up her sage advice about her craft to us.

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of styling oysters and how do you manage it?

The biggest challenge with any kind of styling project is answering the question Why I am doing this? Why do I need to add this image to the world? Am I an oyster farmer who wants to sell a lot of product? Am I a scientist who wants to highlight some particular feature that’s unusual to the organism? Am I on social media trying to get some likes? Is my motivation financial, intellectual, artistic? Once you know where you’re going, you’ll have a much easier time getting there.

As for the technical side of styling oysters, the hardest part is that you are dealing with a living organism that has zero interest in your styling agenda. Oysters, like all of us, would rather not be vivisected with sharp knives and put on display. So they’re not exactly going to pose for the camera. If you want to shoot six great-looking oysters, you should plan to start with at least two dozen. The bigger sample you can start with, the better your outcome will be.

What are some tips or tricks that might help someone who’s trying to get the perfect oyster shot?

Again, first you need to know what the “perfect shot” means to you. The Scandinavian style of food photography that took off ten years ago is still going strong – we see this all over Instagram and it’s still the dominant style of books and magazines. Cool natural light, wabi-sabi props and surfaces, lots of graphic overhead studio shots interspersed with images of wild locations. (Ditte Isager’s photography for the original Noma cookbook is still the gold standard for this style.) If you want this look, try setting up your shot in a darkish room next to a bright window. Use only natural light, and keep the props minimal and zen.

In general, I always say that the number one rule of food styling is wet is beautiful. Wetness makes highlights, highlights make contrast, and contrast makes a dynamic image. Try adding a little extra brine if the oyster is dry, try tilting the shell in different ways to see how the light plays off it, try using matte props so the oyster is the only thing shining.

That said, don’t go coating your oysters with shellac or something just to make them shine. Show some respect to the oyster. Eat it when you’re done. If you’ve done something heinous to the creature just to get an image, it was not worth it. In The Old Days, stylists used to use shoe polish and Maggi seasoning to make barely cooked turkeys look roasted and bronzed. Or Poligrip to glue sandwiches together. Or they would stuff apple pies with mashed potatoes and paper towels to make them look full and “abundant.” All that food ended up in the garbage when the shoot was over. Which seems to me like the height of human stupidity.

What was your favorite oyster staging for The Essential Oyster and why?

Hmm…all of them? Can I say that? It really was a dream project to work on. When we pitched the idea for the images to Bloomsbury, Rowan’s publisher, we had a high-concept idea where we would tie each image to the terroir of its oyster. I’m looking back at my original email from 2015 now and I actually proposed that we would “capture the minerality of a Moonstone by shooting it on a flinty hand-poured concrete slab with Point Judith sand as the substrate.” Needless to say, when the budget and timeline came in, we had to axe the idea of mixing our own concrete. But David Malosh and I did make many of the props ourselves, and the idea of terroir still surfaced in many of the images. The shot of Olympias on weathered copper, for example. I love the metallic flavor of those oysters so we used salt water to develop a patina on those copper sheets.

If I had to pick an absolute favorite, I’d say it has to be the spread of Hama Hama oysters. The wood and moss came from the forest that looms over the tidal flats on the James family land where they grow their oysters. It’s one of the most beautiful places to get lost; it looks like the Forest Moon of Endor. You half-expect an ewok to come down a trail with an oyster knife. To me, images are beautiful when they fix a transitory moment in the eternal, and that shot will always be my secret doorway to that place.

Every oyster in the book is shucked flawlessly. Was it a conscious decision to open each one carefully and precisely? How do you feel when you see a magazine spread today that features massacred oysters? What would you say to the people responsible?

Oh, it was definitely my intention to open each one carefully and precisely…but anyone’s who’s shucked a few oysters knows that the road to (s)hell is paved with good intentions. Some of the shells crumbled in my hands, some of the meats turned out thin and listless, some beautiful rare oysters nearly met their end when they got trapped on FedEx truck and I had to drive to Queens to rescue them from certain death in a 110-degree warehouse. Just a few of the many reasons why you always want to procure a few extras if you can.

On the question of magazines – that’s touchy! I count many of them as clients, and there are some photo editors who really know their stuff and do a great job. But to the merchants of schlock who peddle images of mangled oysters (I’m looking at you, internet), I say slow down. Find the experts. There are so many talented people working in the oyster industry who are willing—even eager—to share their knowledge if you just ask them. And there are some incredibly talented shuckers working the restaurant circuit whose skills deserve to featured in their own right (the crew at Kimball House in Decatur, GA, at Oyster Club in Mystic, CT, and at Pêche in New Orleans all jump to mind, and don’t even get me started on the perfection of Joe Beef). But you have to go out and meet these people; you have to experience what they do firsthand. You’ll never get it by googling.

Finally, for my own technical curiosity, when do you shuck the oysters for your shoot? Do you set up the staging and then shuck? Or shuck, place and then style around it? Can you pre-shuck to some extent?

For The Essential Oyster, one of the big challenges was making each image look different from the next. It was like doing 100 shots of steaks: sure, a rib-eye is totally different from a porterhouse…but is it really? You have to find a way to blow up the nuances. With oysters, you have to find a way to see the same salty blob as fresh and new. On a book of this scope, I also needed to make sure the pacing had a rhythm to it: changing up the scale of each shot, alternating light and dark palettes, varying the angle of the composition. David and I were shooting the images out of order over several months, so as we finished each shot he would print a Polaroid and pin it to the wall according to its page number. Then we’d fill in the blanks as we finished each image. These bigger storyboard arcs totally occupied my mind, so whenever it was possible to shuck the oysters in advance for a particular shot and keep them in the fridge, I did. Maybe an hour or two. Anything to buy a little time to figure out the creative flow.

And speaking of creative flow, I have to say that David is actually a much better shucker that I am. He can operate a camera with one hand and shuck an oyster with the other. It’s like watching an octopus solve a Rubik’s cube. I highly recommend working with him if you ever get the chance.

Buy the book on Amazon.

Other Resources

STYLING GUIDE: A month ago, I had the opportunity to work with a fabulous champagne brand and their creative agency on a media event and booklet. Although I wasn’t able to attend their shoot, I put together a little cheat sheet of “what to do / what not to do” when it comes to oyster presentation. Download the Oyster Shucking (PDF)

HOW TO SHUCK: Watch my own video

SOURCING PROPS: Check out the Oyster Concierge and Gift Wish List for ideas

Oyster ToursJune 29, 2017

Blazing the Maine Oyster Trail: Part 1

According to NOAA, Maine has 3,478 miles of coastline (ranking them 4th across all states). That’s a lot of oyster potential! I’ve been helping Maine Sea Grant to blow out their Oyster Trail concept, and what better way to get inspired than to experience the trail for myself? For Part 1, I am republishing a piece that I wrote for Portland Magazine’s Summer Guide 2017 based on a solo road trip that I did in Summer of 2015 with some additional notes.

As an international oyster fanatic, I find it wise to be diplomatic when I’m asked, “Where do the best oysters come from?” encouraging the asker to remember that every oyster-producing region can grow exceptional oysters. I can rave over an oyster from anywhere, as long as it’s served in peak condition.

But I’ve got a confession: I secretly favor Maine oysters over all other regions in North America. Maybe I’m biased from happy childhood memories of Acadia National Park and romantic summer trips with my then boyfriend, now husband. Maine has always served us well as a place of relaxation and renewal. We even got married in Stockton Springs and toasted our new life together with champagne and local oysters. Objectively speaking, I think the pristine environment and bracingly cold waters of the Gulf of Maine make the oysters here taste a cut above the rest. You just can’t deny the crisp brininess and bone-broth savoriness of the oysters that come out of these waters.

Oysters aren’t that different from fine wines insofar as they are site-expressive, meaning their taste is shaped by the characteristics of their growing environment. Where wines have terroirs, oysters are defined by “meroirs.” Water salinity, temperature, the type of algae present in the water, and seabed characteristics all factor into an oyster’s flavor.

Day One

I land at Portland International Jetport and get right down to business. First stop: James Beard Award-winning Eventide Oyster Co. for a midday snack. My first meal of the trip features new discoveries from Brown Point, Otter Cove, and Schoodic Point farms. A plate of fluke crudo with wild blueberry and hoisin sauce is a delicious addition to my oyster-centric diet.

Temporarily satiated, I head south to meet up with Abigail Carroll, the “accidental oyster farmer” who grows Nonesuch Oysters near Scarborough, and I’m immediately fascinated by her approach to the craft. Scrappy and innovative, she has repurposed old lobster traps as makeshift oyster nurseries. They seem to perform just as well as traditional gear.

Look at the oyster babies!

I sample some of Abigail’s bottom-planted oysters, bag-cultured oysters, and a couple of her Nonesuch Flats–a variety that is native to Europe (Ostrea edulis) but also exist in Maine. They have a robust, savory flavor and metallic finish that is completely different from our native Atlantic species (Crassostrea virginica).

2017 Notes

If there’s an unbearable wait at Eventide, try their next door joint Honeypaw. Insanely tasty shared bites and noodles. Or if you’re craving classic seafood, try Scales or J’s Oyster. At J’s, however, I would recommend their bucket-o-steamers over their oysters any day of the week.

Day Two

As soon as I set foot inside Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery, I automatically float over to the stainless-steel raw bar beneath the cathedral ceiling. Now that’s what I call an oyster theater! Executive Chef Brandon Blethen and Tom Robinson from Taylor Lobster Company and I begin discussing oysters over a round of beers. We sample a platter of two dozen oysters from several appellations in Maine, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia. I whip out my 33 Oysters on the Half Shell tasting journal, and we proceed to compare tasting notes like college kids cramming for finals week.

The complex, layered seaweed and mineral notes of the Cape Blue oysters from the Damariscotta River are wonderful, but the real showstopper of the day is Chef Blethen’s cold, hickory-smoked Glidden Points. The smoky brine takes this raw oyster to a whole other level.

Detour: New Hampshire Oyster Farm Tour

Kittery is awfully close to the New Hampshire border, so I couldn’t leave the area without checking out the new brand oyster farming scene in Great Bay. Tom arranged an outing with Jay Baker, co-founder and grower of Fat Dog Oysters. (What a great name!!)

We toured Jay’s upweller system, which was elegantly concealed under a dock, and then his grow out location. Jay uses off-bottom cages that can only be brought to the surface with a wench. We all waited with baited breath as each emerald green-gilded cage emerges from the steely blue water.

We all geeked out over the custom-built tumbler, which was not only sleek and stylish, but very quiet!

Day Three

A long drive from Southern Maine to Mount Desert Island is richly rewarded with some of the tastiest wood-fired pizza I’ve ever had and a round of freshly harvested oysters from Western Bay, Mount Desert Island at Sweet Pea’s Cafe.

I met with oyster rancher Matt Gerard, the owner of Bar Harbor’s Sweet Pea Farm, who is a generous and entertaining host. His personal approach to oyster farming can be described as laissez-faire: they are bottom-cultured and exposed to the elements and predators.

Later that afternoon, I have a chance to tour a nearby oyster lease with Brian Harvey, grower of Mount Desert Island Selects. These are some of the sweetest and meatiest oysters  I’ve ever found in Maine. Their umami taste actually reminds me of cured ham. Prosciutto of the sea, anyone?

Baby eel SQUEEEEE!

Day Four

The Damariscotta River is like the Napa Valley of shellfish. After a scenic drive down the eastern bank of the river, I arrive at Mook Sea Farms. No other farm exemplifies both the art and science of oyster farming as well as this one. A scientist, inventor, and climate-change activist, founder Bill Mook is an amalgamation of Bill Nye, Jacques Cousteau, and Willy Wonka. 

Mook Sea Farms primarily uses a floating cage system to cultivate their oysters. The wave action and plentiful food allows their oysters to grow quickly and produce clean, manicured shells.

One of Bill’s inventions: the auto bag flipper.

Don’t Miss: Boothbay Harbor

If you have an extra half day, make sure to drop down to Boothbay Harbor. This peaceful little town revs up quite a bit during peak summer months, but it is just right around August/September. Definitely check out Ae Ceramics, one of my favorite pottery studios. I discovered Alison’s gorgeous oyster plates on a previous trip to Bar Harbor and later received a beautiful one from my husband as my wedding gift!

Day Five

I can’t leave Maine without a proper “shuck your own” experience at Glidden Point Oyster Farm. I try my hand at shucking an XL Glidden Point, and it certainly puts up a fight. But nothing is more satisfying than shucking your own briny lunch right at the source.

I make my way back to Portland in search of one last indulgence before I leave. My last stop on this whirlwind Maine oyster tour is at the corner of Commercial and, appropriately, Pearl Street.  If hot dog and pretzel stands are iconic to New York, then Brendan Parson’s BP Shuck Shack fills that role in Portland. Brendan’s oyster cart has everything you need for a great al fresco raw bar experience, including a detailed map of the Damariscotta River.

2017 Update: BP Goes Brick & Mortar

Brendan will be opening a brick & mortar Shuck Shack in Damariscotta-Newcastle later this year.

That’s a wrap for now. If you’re itching for more Maine oyster stories, check out the full Portland Magazine 2017 Summer Guide!