A group of 50 Washington, D.C.-area restaurant chefs rode across the Chesapeake Bay from Solomon’s Island on June 11 for an educational tour of Hoopers Island Oyster Co.’s farm in Fishing Creek
The chefs were customers of Congressional Seafood, a leading wholesaler based in Jessup, Maryland.
“Any time we can educate customers as to where product comes from, why it’s good to serve and give them the full story behind the seafood, it helps us and it helps them with their restaurant patrons,” said Congressional Executive Vice President Tim Sughrue.
Hoopers Island Managing Partner Ricky Fitzhugh and Senior Sales Manager Chris Wyer welcomed the chefs who were treated to a picnic lunch that included oysters on the half shell and grilled oysters with herbed butter.
Additional Dorchester County favorites were featured including Old Salty’s crab balls, flowers, sides and sweets from Emily’s Produce and local ground beef and chicken provided by Simmons Center Market. Guests were entertained by musician Anna Burgess.
For Erik Foxx-Nettnin, head chef at Magnolias at the Mill in Purcellville, Virginia, the trip brought back memories of eating oysters while growing up in Southern Maryland.
“I really like the grilled ones,” he said. “We feature raw oysters and other Maryland and Virginia seafood and our customers really love it.”
Hoopers Island Nursery-Hatchery Manager Natalie Ruark and Field Supervisor Tyler Sondberg spoke to the group about how they spawn larvae at the company’s Crocheron hatchery and raise young oysters in floating upwellers at the Fishing Creek farm.
The chefs also went on a boat tour led by Facilities and Oyster Production Manager Bobby Gootee who showed how oysters are grown to market size in floating cages on local waters.
“It was very informative, and I’m excited about how they do aquaculture,” said Executive Chef Jacqueline Castaldo with Black Market Group, which operates nine restaurants in the D.C. area.
University of Maryland Regional Extension Specialist Don Webster and Maryland Department of Natural Resources Aquaculture Director Karl Roscher joined Sughrue to share additional information about the Bay’s cornerstone species.
“This tour is both timely and important,” Sughrue said. “Without chefs promoting Chesapeake Bay oysters, there would be no aquaculture industry and no oysters filtering billions of gallons of Bay water.”
Emily Spizuoco, a purchasing manager for Fabio Trabocchi Restaurants, said oysters are served on the half shell and in seafood towers at three D.C.-area locations.
“We probably buy 5,000 oysters a week,” she said.
In addition to learning about oysters, the group visited Hoopers Island’s neighbor Russell Hall Seafood, where they watched how steam crabs are picked and sampled some of the day’s catch.