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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.

Rick Tramonto has seen the devastation from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill firsthand. His job now, he says, is to convince other chefs to see it for themselves.

Tramonto was one of a contingent of well-known chefs who traveled to the Grand Isle area Sunday to throw their support to the state's fishing and shrimping industry and ease consumer uncertainty about the safety of Gulf seafood. The chefs held a press conference Monday to launch the Friends of the Fishermen Foundation with the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.

"It's about bringing awareness to the situation immediately, and opening a discussion of what does this really look like, to get the chefs to see it up close and personal," Tramonto said today, en route to yet another (unrelated) event in Minneapolis. "Yes, families are devastated, yes, areas are devastated. But yes, there is still great, live fish coming out of the Gulf."

The catalyst for the event was Tramonto's friend, Louisiana chef John Folse, who had just come back from promoting Gulf seafood in Helsinki, Finland, on behalf of the Louisiana seafood board. Folse got Tramonto on board, who then rounded up a dozen of his buddies for the weekend, including Tom Colicchio, he of Bravo's "Top Chef" series, and Rick Moonen and Susur Lee, Tramonto's fellow competitors on this season's "Top Chef Masters."

The chefs took a boat tour in Grand Isle and met with fisherman and crabbers whose livelihood has been threatened by the spill. And they ate plenty of oysters, crab, shrimp and redfish, too.

This was Tramonto's third such trip to the region. The chef, who announced this month he is leaving Tru to open a new project, said it's not his last.

As for the chatter that New Orleans just might be the site of that next project, Tramonto said ever so gamely, "I really want to be in Napa Valley, if everybody really wants to know where I want to be."

How do you make rainbow trout sexy?

One idea: Give it to Curtis Duffy at Avenues, who'll have a go not once, but twice -- poached in olive oil until it's buttah, and whipped into brandade -- then plated with fennel in every possible form, dabs of a fennel-y mustard and an absinthe foam.

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This was what Duffy plied us with earlier this week (in addition to fennel chips, king crab by the spoonful and other delights). "Us": Lockwood's blogging chef Phillip Foss, writer/chef/expert palate Louisa Chu and moi. We'd been solicited as judges for a contest put on by Villa Park-based Supreme Lobster, whose main monger Carl Galvan you might recognize from his funny, sometimes vulgar Twitter feed.

Our task (that's stretching it) was to judge a dish at each of the three chef-finalist's restaurants featuring trout from Clear Springs Farm in Idaho. We were driven from Point A (Pops for Champagne and chef Chris Walker's trout with a deconstructed meuniere) to Point B (Sepia and chef Andrew Zimmerman's pave of trout with an almond and Iberico ham picada) to Point C, the aforementioned Avenues.

While it was a lovely evening of exquisite food and conversation (about food trucks, Twitter, Chicago Gourmet, maltodextrin, food trucks, Foss' burning desire to write a memoir and food trucks), it all went back to making trout -- fish, period -- sexy. Galvan knows a fine fish when he sees it, and the sustainably raised trout from Clear Springs is about as pure as it gets. There is method to Galvan's madness, after all. photo[1].jpg

He tweets to sell more fish (he also tweets while driving, but that's another story; and while we're at it, that's Foss tweeting at right). He holds these contests so that Jennifer Mulhern, regional sales manager for Clear Springs and our tablemate for the evening, can sell more fish.

"Rainbow trout is your grandmother's fish," said Mulhern (in between wide-eyed bites of trout and genuinely amazed outbursts of, "I never knew trout could taste like that!") "We're trying to figure out how to get people to think differently about it."

This was the third such chef's challenge Galvan has organized (Foss won the previous scallop contest). The prize is $500 or a trip to the Idaho farm.

Galvan will announce the winner next week.

photo by Louisa Chu

Coming soon to a restaurant menu near you: sheepshead.

No, not a sheep's head. We're talking sheepshead -- a small fish with lots of bones and little teeth that come in handy for mashing its prey.

The odd-sounding fish is one of many lesser known fish that chefs including Chicago's Paul Kahan and Susan Spicer of New Orleans are confident will catch on among salmon- and tuna-centric American consumers -- if not because such fish are ecologically sound choices, then because they taste so good. 10-15 Davis whales 5.jpg

Kahan, Spicer and Mark Palicki of Chicago's Fortune Fish Co. were talking up croaker, Spanish mackerel and other overlooked species (that's capelin and herring to your right) at the Chefs Collaborative National Summit, a gathering this week in Chicago of chefs, farmers, purveyors, academics and other food industry types.

At the Publican, 837 W. Fulton, Kahan's paean to pork, seafood and beer, sardines and smelt are big sellers.

"For cost reasons and a lot of other reasons, we stay away from mainstream [fish]," he said. "I just don't think it's interesting."

Audience members later were treated to plates of sturgeon done Kahan's way -- lightly smoked, with a salad of edamame, bean sprout leaves, jalapeno and lime -- and cornmeal-crusted sheepshead a la Spicer, served over okra, blackeyed peas and tasso ham.

"How you serve it will make someone take a chance on it for the first time," Spicer said. (Of course, tasso ham makes anything taste better.) Kahan, who worked as a youth at his dad's smokehouse, favors smoking, pickling and potting fish.

Palicki, who sells to restaurants, offered up lists of under-utilized fish that included bycatch (fish unintentionally caught with other fish), such as amberjack and trigger fish, and invasive species, such as lionfish and Asian carp. He went so far as to float a rather creative idea for dealing with the invaders, which drew some chuckles.

"We're trying to figure out a way to get rid of them," Palicki said. "I say, let's eat 'em."

The Chefs Collaborative summit ended today.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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