Our own Dave Hoekstra spent some time with the oystermen (and women) of the Motivatit Seafood in Houma, La., whose Gold Band oysters are distributed by Villa Park's Supreme Lobster and Seafood to Chicago restaurants. Motivatit was one of six major suppliers of Gulf oysters before the oil spill; now, it's the only one.
Hoekstra's profile of the company, and the hard-hit industry, is in today's Food pages. You might be surprised to learn that oysters are rather frisky creatures, capable of producing 12 million sperm and eggs each. Or you might be inclined to slurp down a few (you're in luck -- Shaw's annual Royster with the Oyster fest starts Oct. 11, though those won't be Gulf oysters, but rather East Coast ones.)
What didn't make it into Hoekstra's story was his explanation of how an oyster gets from the Gulf of Mexico to the plate. Even in the best of times, it's a gritty seven-step process:
1. Boats go out from the Bayou Dularge dock, about 40 miles from Houma, La. The boats travel about three or four miles into the oyster bays, just before the Gulf waters.
2. Dredges are dropped and oysters are dredged up on the deck.
3. Oysters are placed on a large table, where they are deemed marketable. In the summer, the best oysters are put in a burlap sack and placed in a cooler. During the winter, they can be left on the deck because the atmosphere is already refrigerated.
4. The oysters are brought back to the dock, where 100-pound burlap sacks filled with oysters are unloaded on a conveyor belt into the back of a truck. About 25 sacks are put on a pallet in the truck. The sacks are transported to Motivatit Seafood under refrigeration.
5. At the plant, the sacks are dumped into a washer and oysters are separated. A $400,000 oyster grading machine with interior cameras automatically picks out small, medium or large oysters.
6. The oysters are shucked.
7. After packaging, the oysters are shipped mostly to distributors.