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Engulfed With Vauthy, Schwartz and Bernstein

[Photos by Jackie Sayet]
As we reported last week, a trifecta of Miami chefs are in New Orleans for a White House-sanctioned event to promote Gulf seafood. Special Eater correspondent Jackie Sayet was embedded with the troops and reporting on their activities and antics. On Monday, chefs Michelle Bernstein, Michael Schwartz, and Peter Vauthy (in ship shape after Sunday's stomach bug, we are happy to report!) hit Lake Pontchartrain's open waters with White House executive chef Criseta Comerford to see first-hand the Gulf's newly opened fisheries -- and the seafood swimming in them – and learn about what is being done to ensure it's safe to consume.

The jam-packed morning included blue crabbing with the Pontchartrain Blue Crab company followed by a processing facility tour with owner Gary Bauer, who, at this time of year, handles 20-24,000 pounds of crab a day, including live shipment. In July, he was down 78 percent, plummeting to about 1,800 pounds a day. To try and keep his seasonal workers employed, they began processing crawfish and live crabs from out of state. Some good news for Bauer? His fishery is in full assessment mode with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and should be certified sustainable by fall 2011.

"The takeaway is that it reinforces the importance of knowing your suppliers," said Schwartz of the experience. "What we saw and tasted at the plant was great. These people need our help."

Vauthy agreed, saying "After witnessing the impact of the BP spill in the Gulf firsthand, I have a deeper understanding of how vital the seafood industry is for the development of the region. My experience also reinforced my belief that it is paramount for restaurateurs to know where their product comes from and do their research."

A lunch briefing followed with FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum where the chefs munched on shrimp and roast beef po' boys from Domilise's, Zapp's potato chips, and Sazerac cupcakes crowned by rich buttercream and gold glitter-dusted white chocolate Fleur-de-lis.

Hamburg assured the Federal government was “in it for the long term” and recapped their efforts to date at both State and Federal levels to monitor and test for oil and dispersant contamination, as well as develop a protocol for reopening waters for safe harvest of wild Gulf seafood. She reassured that the scientific data of their findings are available to the public online, but consumer-friendly materials did not currently exist for chefs like Bernstein, who asked how she might address customers’ concerns about contamination at her restaurants. 35-40,000 square miles of ocean still remain closed today so they have their work cut out for them.

“I’m going to consider serving it, but I need to do a little more research,” explained Bernstein. “I personally would absolutely eat it. Everything boiled with Zatarain’s crab boil is delicious.”

Vauthy says he, too, is "Open to serving our guests anything that compliments our menu and meets the highest of standards."

In the afternoon, the Miami crew joined host chef Chris Lusk of Cafe Adelaide to learn how to make Gulf shrimp crusted shrimp with (tomato) red grits and Absinthe vert beurre. (But not before Top Chef Season One finalist Lee Anne Wong and Food Network's Kelsey Nixon provided comic relief for the chefs en-route with a hand-delivered Hurricane yard glass. Classy, ladies, real classy!)

Massive quantities of the dish were then packed up and delivered to St. Bernard Parish with tasty Cajun creations from other local host chefs including Greg Reggio of Zea (alligator étouffée over roasted corn grits,) Christopher Lynch of Meson 923 (jumbo lump crab-stuffed shrimp, Creole tomato and okra stew with a jalapeño emulsion,) and Drew Dzejak of The Grill Room at the Windsor Court Hotel (Louisiana crab salad on endive and gulf shrimp dip.)

The occasion was a block party to celebrate the fine work of the St. Bernard Project to return a displaced New Orleans family that lost their home to Hurricane Katrina to their neighborhood and a brand new home. An emotional cap to a busy day.

The trip was filmed for an upcoming episode of Al Roker’s new Cooking Channel show, “My Life in Food.” We'll follow up when an air date is set. [EaterWire]