For those who saw the Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle at the Richmond Forum, here's the link to the piece I wrote last fall about Joel Salatin of Polyface and the other Virginia farmers he's inspired to farm in a humane, sustainable way.
Oysters are the hot babes of the seafood world. With a rock-solid reputation as a guaranteed aphrodisiac, science can’t seem to dislodge the popular notion that if you could just convince your sweetheart to eat a few, sexual nirvana will follow.
I’m not going to take sides. Half of sex (or is it three-quarters?) is all in our heads anyway, and if you believe that one little oyster might help the process, who am I to argue? Plus, I’m a true believer that the sensuality of great food leads us all down the path to a deeper appreciation of sensuality in general.
At the very least, good food puts me into a good mood.
Unfortunately, oysters have had a hard time for the last hundred years or so. In the Chesapeake Bay, a trifecta of pollution, over-harvesting, and disease has wiped out the wild oyster population. Most of the tall reefs where oysters like to live have been destroyed, and now, farming is the last gasp of hope for Virginia oysters.
Small aquaculture farmers like the Croxtons of Rappahannock River Oysters might be the solution. Recipient of the 2005 Food & Wine Magazine’s Tastemaker’s Award, the company supplies restaurants like Le Bernadin in New York, Vidalia in DC, and locally, Six Burner, 1 North Belmont, and Comfort, among other high-end restaurants here and throughout the country.
Years ago, Ryan Croxton’s grandfather warned Ryan’s father not to become a waterman. The work was just too hard and the oyster population was dwindling as the bay was decimated by disease and unchecked pollution. But Ryan and his cousin Travis weren’t worried about that. They both had jobs in Richmond and reviving the oyster company their family started in 1899 was going to be a winter weekend hobby.
Instead of dredging the bay for oysters like the their great-grandfather did, which destroys the bay’s fragile ecosystem, today the younger Croxtons string together a series of elevated cages where native oysters can be monitored for shape, size, and health.
Just across the river from the Croxton’s oyster beds, William and Mary’s Institute of Marine Science incubates genetically sturdier rootstock and seed oysters in long, bubbling tanks inside the Kauffman Aquaculture Center. If other watermen can be redirected into the oyster farming business, depleted populations like the blue crab will have a chance to increase their numbers, while the added oysters, like little aquatic vacuum cleaners, can sieve out the algae and sediment clogging the waterways.
It's not online yet (still) but here's the unedited version of the lovely Kendra Feather and her story from Belle:
When Kendra Feather opened up her restaurant a decade ago, she knew a lot about waiting tables in restaurants, but not a lot about running one. “If I’d known anything about it, I never would have lasted,” she says.
She cobbled together the money to open Ipanema by saving the tips she made working at the 3rd Street Diner and relying on the generous help of friends who built her booths and renovated the space for very little remuneration other than her undying gratitude. The Friday she opened, she wrote checks to her suppliers from an empty checking account and prayed that over the weekend she would make enough money to cover it all on Monday.
The gamble paid off. Over the years, she’s quietly and diligently worked to make the business self-sufficient and then profitable. “My ignorance kept me going,” she says. Other restaurants might have folded when an immediate pay-off failed to materialize, but Feather took the hard work for granted and persisted.
Her decision to offer a vegetarian menu also filled a void vacated by Grace Place’s closing two years earlier. “I was forced to think out of the box . . . in 1998 there wasn’t much of a blue print for that kind of approach to vegetarian food. We were trying to take a side dish and make it an entrée.”
And as one of the largest produce consumers for their size in the city, making it local and making it organic has proved to be a challenge as well. She hasn’t been able to find the right grower and has qualms about cleaning out all of the produce at a farmer’s market. Ingredients need to show up in time to be prepped for dinner service, and that hasn’t always happened when she’s tried to work with some small farmers. She’s becoming more optimistic, however. “I talked to Lisa (Taranto) of Tricycle gardens about an idea of local kids growing for us. I really like the idea (of an after-school program).”
With Ipanema’s success and the experience she’s gained getting there, Feather was ready when her friend Manny Mendez of Kuba Kuba offered her the former Table 9 restaurant space on the corner of Park and Meadow. The restaurant immediately following (I can’t even remember the name of the place, Deveron. Do you?) Table 9 only stayed open for two weeks, and Mendez and his partner Johnny Giavos, owners of the building, were looking for a new tenant. Feather jumped at the opportunity to do something different.
The new restaurant, named Garnett’s and opening this summer, won’t be vegetarian, although there will be vegetarian options. Feather envisions more of an old-style, neighborhood sandwich shop with things like Cobb salad and a Croque Monsieur on the menu. Named after her grandmother, Garnett’s will have plenty of sandwiches inspired by other family members as well. “Food is a way to connect with people. It’s a way to care for them . . . I come from the school of thought says, ‘a piece of pie can make everything better.’” If the past ten years are any indication, Kendra Feather knows exactly what she’s talking about.
Oh, the sacrifices I make. After eating a whole lot of burgers around town, I wrote about the few that made my cut in the current issue of Style Weekly. Here's a guide to finding the best burger in town.
And if you pick up a copy of Belle magazine, you can also read a profile of the lovely Kendra Feather of Ipanema Cafe
. Unfortunately, it isn't online yet. I'll add the link when it is.