At the confluence, with Luc Chamberland

03/01/2012

How does an oyster taste?

“Buttery,” 7-year-old Simone Chamberland, who prefers her oysters barbecued, says. “Like the sea,” her dad, Luc Chamberland, offers.

For Luc, who grew up in Quebec, oysters elicit memories of riding the ferry over the St. Lawrence River as a child. “You could smell the scent of salt air mixed in with the wind and the chill from the Nordic air and that, to me, was the smell of ocean, of life. That special smell. It’s like kissing the ocean,” he says.

This spring, Luc will open the Saltwater Oyster Depot and Wine Bar in Inverness. He brings 25 years of immersion in West Marin aquaculture to the venture.

Luc founded Pickleweed Point Community Oyster Farm on one acre at the confluence of Walker Creek and Tomales Bay, just south of Tomales. The location is a “beacon of the health of what’s happening upland” with the dairy farms, and because of this Luc has to meet stringent certification standards.

But the relatively clean bay provides a stark contrast to the damaged estuaries, wetlands and near-shore environments Luc works to restore in another one of his jobs—at the environmental engineering firm Dixon Marine Services, in Inverness.

For Luc it is clear that educating consumers is an integral step toward preserving the environment. And, as the seven-year owner of the former Abalone Acres, an abalone farm on Tomales Bay, he has first-hand knowledge of sustainable shellfish farming.

Pickleweed Point offers hands-on opportunities to grow shellfish, prepare them for consumption, and understand the important role they play in maintaining water quality and healthy ecosystems. The organization hosts environmental education programs for urban school groups, coordinated by the Richmond-based Watershed Project, a nonprofit that is also the fiscal sponsor for Pickleweed Point. The oyster farm has 30 members, and can accommodate 20 more.

Pickleweed will also offer a Community-Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program for those who cannot commit time to farming but wish to support the enterprise. The first harvest is slated for distribution May, 2012.

“This whole Pickleweed thing is really to get people to be part of a community and part of a garden and be in the water. I wanted to have young people and old people alike, from all different walks of life to be able to have exposure to that and to have the joy, the excitement and sometimes the sadness of being a farmer,” Luc says.

Luc is interested in making a direct-distribution network for restaurants, farmers, and winemakers profitable. The Saltwater Oyster Depot and Wine Bar will serve local, artisan-grown food; its suppliers will include farmers whose friendship Luc has spent considerable time cultivating, such as Jesse Kuhn of Marin Roots Farm, whom Luc has known since Jesse was a child. The restaurant will keep the pizza ovens from the former Priscilla’s Pizzeria and Café, and will offer thin-crust pizzas with seasonal ingredients like wild mushrooms and stinging nettles.

But Luc believes fresh oysters to go, sold at farm-gate prices, will be a particular draw for locals.  

Saltwater will also feature a forward-thinking wine-on-tap program. Stainless steel kegs filled at wineries will bypass packaging, labeling and distribution costs for winemakers, and eliminate corkage waste—when wine goes bad because the cork is bad—for the restaurant. This direct-pour program will allow Luc to promote up-and-coming artisan winemakers.

Luc says he looks to Hog Island Oyster Company as an example of a sustainable business that reinvests capital in meaningful employee benefits and technological improvements for better farming systems. “Manka’s was [also] instrumental,” he says of the renowned Inverness lodge where he spent eight years working his way from Sunday brunch waiter to restaurant manager. Manka’s frank celebration of food that is locally raised, foraged or fished informs his approach to Saltwater.

Luc is finding his own path as a restaurateur and shellfish farmer to celebrate and share the culinary rewards of Tomales Bay. Piquant flavor in a half shell? We’ll raise a glass to that!

 

Contact Luc Chamberland at pickleweedpoint@gmail.com to learn more about Pickleweed Point Community Oyster Farm.

 

Lobster and Asparagus Soft-Cooked Eggs with

Oyster Cava Cream, or Revuelto de Langosta

 

This decadent recipe, adapted from Jose Garces, features the rich flavors of cava (Spanish sparkling wine), heavy cream, lobster and oysters. Luc recommends using small oysters from Tomales Bay Oyster Company, whose Pacific oysters are grown at the confluence of Tomales Bay and Walker Creek.

 

2 Tablespoons kosher salted butter

1 shallot, minced

8 oz. lobster meat (tail, knuckles and claws), poached and roughly chopped

1/4 cup green asparagus, blanched and sliced on a diagonal

4 large eggs

2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

2 Tablespoons minced chives

Kosher salt

Black pepper

8 ounces oyster cava cream

8 French baguette slices, toasted

 

Oyster cava cream

5 shallots, minced

4 cloves garlic, crushed

3 cups cava (Spanish sparkling wine)

1 quart heavy cream

2 Tablespoons minced chives

Kosher salt

4 small Tomales Bay Oyster Co. oysters, shucked, with liqueur saved

 

In a medium saucepan sweat the shallots and garlic until translucent. Add cava and reduce to one cup. Add heavy cream and bring to low boil. Reduce heat and simmer cream until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Cool five minutes. Puree cream in blender and pass through a fine-meshed sieve. Season with kosher salt to taste. Cream can be refrigerated up to three days.

 

Before serving, reheat the cream in a small pot, adding heavy cream to return sauce to a consistency thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add shucked oysters, including oyster liqueur, and gently poach oysters in cream. Add chives and season with kosher salt to taste.

 

To assemble, heat a nonstick pan over medium-low heat. Add butter and heat until it no longer bubbles. Add shallot, lobster and green asparagus and gently warm. Crack eggs into small mixing bowl and whisk until frothy. Incorporate parsley and chives and season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper. Add eggs to pan and gently scramble eggs until just cooked.

 

To serve, pour eggs into a five-inch-diameter ring mold on a plate and fold in the lobster mixture, which should be very soft. Garnish with toast and oyster cava cream.