More than 60 chefs and food service managers from top Washington, D.C. area hotels, restaurants and caterers visited seafood companies on Hoopers Island last week to learn about the local crabs, fish and oysters they purchase.
The trip was organized for clients of Profish, Washington, D.C.’s leading seafood supplier, and sponsored by Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) Seafood Marketing.
At Fishing Creek, the group visited Hoopers Island Oyster Co. and crabmeat packer W T Ruark & Co. They also learned how to work a pound net aboard Sawyer Charters.
“The idea is to educate and increase the level of respect for what goes into a box of oysters or a container of crab meat that comes in the door,” said John Rorapaugh, Sustainable Director for Profish. “These trips raise the overall value of the products we receive from the Chesapeake’s waters.”
Karen Kirksey, MDA Seafood Marketing Specialist, said the tour is one of seven trips they are sponsoring this summer for the culinary industry and media.
“On the front end, it’s important for chefs and food processors to see and understand where their seafood is coming from,” she said. “The more we can get people out, the better we can tell our story.”
Fresh crab meat, smoked fish, grilled oysters and oysters on the half shell were served at a picnic held for the group at Hoopers Island Oysters’ nursery and farm at House Point.
“I think these oysters are great,” said Adam Howard, Executive Chef, Blueduck Tavern at the Park Hyatt in Georgetown. “We always try and keep something local on the menu, and we look for stories that our servers can present to our guests. It’s kind of the point of coming out here.”
Others in the group included chefs from CHIKO restaurant, Ivy City Smokehouse, Ritz Carlton, Sweetgreen restaurant, The World Bank café and the University of Richmond.
“Now being out here at Hoopers Island, we’re definitely going to make this one of the staples on our half shell menu,” said Ivy City Smokehouse Chef Jay Caputo. “We try and keep a good variety at all times. Our customers are looking for different sizes from large ones with deep cups to those with longer, more delicate shells.”
Hoopers Island Oyster Founding Partner Johnny Shockley and Senior Manager, Oyster Production Jordan Shockley shared how their company is setting a new direction for a sustainable oyster industry in the state of Maryland and on the Chesapeake Bay.
That sustainability is key, according to Earl Lee with the University of Richmond’s in-house caterer.
“We focus on a local, sustainable fish at least twice a week,” he said, “so we want to let our students, faculty and deans know about how these oysters are grown.”
In addition to conducting chef’s tours, MDA Seafood Marketing plans an upcoming advertising campaign to promote buying local seafood; particularly crab meat as state packing houses endure a challenging year.