Wednesday, June 30

GRAVY GULF EDITION: CLOSED WATERS


A DISPATCH FROM ASHLEY HALL
TUESDAY, JUNE 29, 2010
This is a little difficult to read, but the purple represents the federal waters that are closed to fishing as of yesterday. The yellow is the land; Florida is on the right, Louisiana is on the upper left. The area was expanded eastward on June 28 to just off of Cape San Blas. If you want more detail, you can check this web site.   http://bit.ly/cwuahz
This map hangs in the office at Greg Abrams Seafood Company in Panama City, Florida.
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Ashley Hall is an SFA member and contributer to Gravy, the SFA's foodletter. She is traveling along the Gulf Coast to capture stories relating to the oil spill as a traveling Gravy correspondent. We'll be posting relevant entries here, but visit the blog she's set up for the project, Third Coast Byways, for more.

LUKE ZIMMERMANN, FOUNDER OF THE CENTRAL TEXAS BBQ ASSOCIATION, PASSES

Image via Austin360.com

We just learned that Luke Zimmermann, founder of the Central Texas Barbecue Association and Ruby's BBQ in Austin, passed away last weekend after a short battle with liver cancer. Luke was a key player in our collaboration with our friends at The University of Texas at Austin, whom we worked with to collect oral histories for the Texas leg of our Southern BBQ Trail. He was well loved in Austin and beyond, and the barbecue community has certainly suffered a profound loss. 

Learn more about Luke life and legacy here

GRAVY GULF EDITION: PERDIDO BAY SEAFOOD CO., PENSACOLA


A DISPATCH FROM ASHLEY HALL
TUESDAY, JUNE 29, 2010
Their last boats packed with fresh Gulf Seafood unloaded on June 1, exactly six weeks after the oil rig blew up.
“We filmed it,” said Joy Hatfield, one of the owners of Perdido Bay Seafood located in western Pensacola.
“We took a bunch of pictures. We were all sad because we knew that was probably it for a while,” said Teresa Fagan. Teresa is Joy’s granddaughter. She says she’s been working the family business “since I was in the womb, practically.”
Joy opened Perdido Bay Seafood with her husband and son in November of 1988. Since then, it’s been a thriving wholesale and retail seafood operation. Eight deep-sea boats, two of which they own, have fished only for them.
Teresa believes that what sets Perdido Bay apart is their boats. Their customers can see the fresh fish coming off the water. They can pick their own fish and have confidence in its provenance and freshness.
“We’re not like other places,” Teresa said. “Well, now we’re like other places. Now we get our fish from somebody else. Now we’re just like everybody else.”
“It’s ridiculous. It’s embarrassing.”
The deep-sea area they’ve always fished, the region that provided them with bountiful harvests of grouper, cobia, snapper, and triggerfish, was one of the first to be closed down by the federal government. “Area 11″, about 90 miles off the coast of Alabama and Mississippi, is basically at ground zero for the oil gusher.
Their boats could go around the closed areas to open ones east and southwest of here, but it would add two days to each end of the trip, making it financially unfeasible.
Instead one of the boat captains is working for BP, they say. “And all the rest sit. Waiting for the call that they can go to work [for BP],” Teresa said.
The retail store has some fish for sale, fish bought from suppliers west of here in Florida, and some oysters shipped 450 miles from Galveston Bay. But they selection is skimpy compared to normal.
The family also owned a thriving wholesale operation, selling frozen whole fish to brokers in Tennessee, Atlanta, New York and Canada. It was a multimillion dollar business, Teresa said, that supported the family through the winter when retail sales are slower. But because their boats aren’t operating the wholesale side is completely shuttered.
Like so many here, their future is a depressing mystery. How bad will it be? And while business is rotten, speculation is thriving. Teresa and Joy heard from a friend and government employee that, in his office, folks are betting the waters will be closed for five or even ten years. (That’s before they even open the waters.) “That’s the worst we’ve heard,” Joy said. Other guesses average in the three- to four-year range.
In between the explosion April 20 and the water closure June 1, business at Perdido Bay was tremendous. “It was like the Fourth of July,” their busiest week of the year, Joy said. The regular customers were stockpiling. People were buying shrimp to freeze for weddings in the Fall. “They thought it was going to be the last they were going to get,” Teresa said.
I asked if the family had a seafood stash of their own hidden off in a freezer somewhere. Joy looked at me mildly and said no, as if she hadn’t thought of it. “I don’t know. Your heart just isn’t in it, I guess.”
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Ashley Hall is an SFA member and contributer to Gravy, the SFA's foodletter. She is traveling along the Gulf Coast to capture stories relating to the oil spill as a traveling Gravy correspondent. We'll be posting relevant entries here, but visit the blog she's set up for the project, Third Coast Byways, for more.

Tuesday, June 29

GRAVY GULF EDITION: RICHARD GOLLOTT, GOLLOTT SEAFOOD CO., BILOXI


A DISPATCH FROM ASHLEY HALL
TUESDAY, JUNE 29,2010
Richard Gollott runs Gollott Seafood Co. and Gollott Ice House and Oil Dock in East Biloxi. He also grew up here. In fact his great-grandparents used to live across the street from where the plant stands now.
Gollott Seafood Company is a shrimp processing plant. In a typical year they’ll shell, devein, head (the shrimper’s term for “de-head”) and sometimes freeze six million pounds of shrimp. The busy season should be right now.  ”This is the time of year when [the plant workers] would make their money. They usually work 70 to 80 hours a week.” As of last Tuesday, they were working about 20 hours.
Like so many in the seafood industry here, Richard wants people to know that the Gulf seafood that’s getting out into the market is safe. As of today, 2/3 of Mississippi’s fishing waters were still clean and open, though reports suggest that could change in the coming days.
Many of the shrimpers have chosen to go work for BP, which reportedly earns them about $1200 a day. But the shrimpers who aren’t BP contractors, either because they decided not to or because they’re on a waiting list, can rake in a bumper crop. Richard spoke of a shrimper who recently brought in $40,000 worth of shrimp from a 10 day trip, mostly because of lack of competition.
Richard is an enthusiastic spokesperson for the local bounty and the most upbeat person I’ve spoken with . He was tapped to be one of the businessmen to sit down with President Obama on his trip to the region two weeks ago. “We’ve got the best tasting shrimp in the world because they come out of the Gulf and out of a natural habitat.”  This is a thinly veiled dig at cheap imports, which he says are mostly farm raised. ”I’m optimistic about them getting that well capped,” he said. And though the product coming to him is in extremely smaller quantities, he says the quality remains at its usual high level.
He has bought oily shrimp before, but not lately. The incident was three or four years ago when a shrimper’s gas tank leaked into the bilge and mixed with the harvest. “We threw it in the dumpster,” he said. “And that’s the only time I’ve ever seen oily shrimp in this plant.”
The government has been vigilant about closing any waters that might have oil, so anything getting to the processing plant is clean. But the fishable areas are getting smaller and smaller, and so are the harvests.
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Ashley Hall is an SFA member and contributer to Gravy, the SFA's foodletter. She is traveling along the Gulf Coast to capture stories relating to the oil spill as a traveling Gravy correspondent. We'll be posting relevant entries here, but visit the blog she's set up for the project, Third Coast Byways, for more.

GRAVY GULF EDITION: KENDALL STORK, LIGHTHOUSE RESTAURANT, BAYOU LA BATRE


A DISPATCH FROM ASHLEY HALL
TUESDAY, JUNE 29, 2010
A week ago I sat down with Kendall Stork, co-owner of the Lighthouse Restaurant in Bayou La Batre. The restaurant, opened by Kendall’s parents in 1979, is the go-to spot for prepared local seafood.
Last Monday, June 21, Kendall seemed concerned but upbeat. “So far, everything is going well,” he said.
At the Lighthouse, Kendall prides himself on the fact that all of the seafood on the menu – an assortment of crab, oysters, shrimp, flounder- is caught regionally, if not locally. And all are battered and fried to order.
“I buy from our local fishermen. I buy from our local shrimp shops around here. I know where the shrimp’s caught. I know where the fish is caught. That’s why people keep coming back. They know I know what I’m doing.”
Kendall’s ideal is to buy from the local guys on the Bayou, the fellows he went to school with, the fellows he goes hunting with. But if it’s not possible, he’ll buy from western Louisiana, Texas or Florida.
One thing he will not do is buy imported seafood. He tried imported shrimp once, he says, on what sounded like a dare. “The meat of the shrimp had absolutely no taste. It was like eating paper,” he said.
Besides real or perceived issues with flavor, “imported” is a dirty word around here. The cheap, frozen imports from Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil, Ecuador and Chile put a lot of Alabama shrimpers on the brink of collapse even before the oil spill. The depressed prices of these imports make it extremely difficult for Americans, with higher fuel and labor costs, to compete.
As of yesterday Kendall said he could still get every piece of seafood on his menu from the Gulf, with the exception of mullet. Each Wednesday night since 1980, The Lighthouse has served mullet and grits as a special. But all of the mullet’s habitats have been closed to fishing for about four weeks. Still he is getting shrimp, fish and oysters from western Louisiana, where the oil has not reached, though he says oysters are getting increasingly difficult to find.
“I hate to go that far to get product when guys around here are not working. I don’t call that local, but it’s the same kind of shrimp we get around here.”
“One thing you can take to the bank is that I’m not going to buy no imports.” When asked what he would do if getting Gulf shrimp or oysters became impossible, he paused. “I don’t know. I haven’t been asked that question yet. We’re hoping we don’t have to go that far.”
He says that prices have gone up. Shrimp prices had more than doubled from $2.10 a pound to $4.20 a pound, which eats into his profits. “We’ll deal with that later, I guess.”
One thing he wasn’t yet worried about was his sales. Yesterday every seat in the restaurant was full for lunch. There was still an hour wait on Friday night. Besides the local fishermen eating on their BP income, there are BP employees in the area, and volunteers who have come for HAZMAT training, so that they can join the clean up. Plus there’s the Shell refinery up the road, which is full loyal customers. Kendall, like so many others around here, desperately wants off-shore drilling to continue.
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Ashley Hall is an SFA member and contributer to Gravy, the SFA's foodletter. She is traveling along the Gulf Coast to capture stories relating to the oil spill as a traveling Gravy correspondent. We'll be posting relevant entries here, but visit the blog she's set up for the project, Third Coast Byways, for more.

Monday, June 28

BUFORD HWY FIELD TRIP RECAP



A short highlight video of last weekend's field trip to Atlanta, where we explored the global South along Buford HWY, compliments of SFA member Leslie Kelly.

Thanks to all who traveled--and ate--with us!

GRAVY GULF EDITION: SOS, SAVE OUR SHORE, POINT CLEAR, AL



Bill Harrison, The Garage Gifts and Gallery, Point Clear, AL
A DISPATCH FROM ASHLEY HALL
SUNDAY, JUNE 27, 2010
I was driving southbound on US Highway 98 headed away from Fairhope and toward the Gulf when a chalkboard sign caught my eye. “Save our Gumbo,” it said. I pulled off and turned around to investigate. Bill Harrison owns an art gallery and gift shop in a converted gas station he calls “The Garage.” Here Bill teaches painting classes and has recently helped found a movement he’s calling SOS – Save our Shores, a group that is invested in staying on top of oil-related health threats.
“We just want to be able to live and breathe here,” Bill said. His shop is less than 100 yards from Mobile Bay.  He says they’re in contact with doctors, scientists, and university professors. “There’s no good news.” The group has raised money to buy and install air monitoring equipment, and the EPA has agreed to process their findings, he said.
As Bill understands it, there’s a huge underwater oil plume in the Bay that surfaces in different spots from time to time. You can go days without smelling it, and then one morning or afternoon the winds shift and there’s the odor.
They are not sitting around. His group has even raised money, labor and resources to forge a long, absorbent boom made of 5000 pounds of donated alpaca hair and 1500 pairs of panty hose donated by Hanes.
And the T-shirts are flying. Bill says they’re selling through the fourth printing in a bit more than a month. Despite the fact that they’re actually trying on the most basic level to save their own lungs, the idea of saving the ingredients in gumbo seems to be a salient call to action for them. Sales are nearing 10,000 units he said. It’s no surprise that there are a lot of mad seafood lovers out here, and they want to wear the message right on their chests.
Go here, if you want to learn more about this organization.
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Ashley Hall is an SFA member and contributer to Gravy, the SFA's foodletter. She is traveling along the Gulf Coast to capture stories relating to the oil spill as a traveling Gravy correspondent. We'll be posting relevant entries here, but visit the blog she's set up for the project, Third Coast Byways, for more.