Each Friday in October we’ll be featuring a different oyster bar operated by one of our Louisiana Cookin’ Chefs to Watch. This week, our Oyster Happy Hour features Chef Daniel Causgrove (CTW-’13) of Seaworthy in New Orleans.
Seaworthy is an offshoot of Grand Banks, a bar on a ship in New York. The owners moored the ship off a pier in Manhattan, and it’s awesome to sit on the boat and look out at the city skyline. Grand Banks has a small kitchen — basically the galley from the old ship — but they do a great job of turning out excellent food from their small space.
We wanted Seaworthy to offer something similar: a completely unique and engaging place to eat oysters. Our space at Seaworthy is in the New Orleans Central Business District, but the building is one of the oldest in the area. It’s a Spanish Revival Creole Cottage from the 1800’s. Before any construction began, the space had a weathered, second-hand feel. The designers and builders enhanced that vibe; the space feels like the home of a nautical collector.
When developing the concept for Seaworthy, it was important for us to offer a wide range of oysters. We have nine or ten varieties each day, and we try to balance our offerings between the three coasts: East, West, and Gulf. For years, East and West coast oysters received all the publicity, but on any given day our third-coast oysters hold their own against their cousins from East and West.
Offering multiple types of oyster is not just about variety for the consumer. The more diverse offerings and farmers we work with, the higher we can elevate the quality of their product. You don’t want to take a ton of oysters from any one place; instead, it’s better to get some oysters from many places. This philosophy allows oyster farmers to focus on quality, and not churning out huge quantities.
We also focus on going out into different areas in Louisiana to meet the oyster farmers. We talk directly to fishermen, oyster farmers, and other purveyors so that we have a level of engagement and knowledge of where our food comes from. Louisiana has always had a great local seafood industry, but the off-bottom gulf industry has raised a lot of consciousness about sourcing, place, and sustainability.
When we opened, we sold a lot of oysters for $3.00 a piece. We caught a lot of flack for “overcharging.” I want people to know that we try to be as fair to both the customer and the farmer as possible. We try to sell oysters as cheaply as we can, but the slightly higher cost-per-oyster is payment for the direct connection with the oyster farmer. When you buy a farm-cultivated oyster, you know where the product came from, who grew it, and how it was raised and treated. Over time, this will give us all a better oyster to eat.
Sourcing from off-bottom farmers also supports the future of oyster farming and aquaculture in the Gulf. With continued coastal erosion and fresh-water diversions into the Gulf, oyster farming will only become more important and necessary. The old off-bottom leases are not performing like they once did, so the future of the industry is likely farmed oysters in the areas where that makes the most sense.
Although our customers pay a bit more per oyster, the purchase supports entrepreneurs doing something new and exciting in the Gulf. When you pay for a farm-raised oyster, you also pay for the protection and future of our coastal waterways. That these oysters are delicious is really just a bonus.