Our Summer Symposium kicks off in Richmond, Virginia, this Thursday, and we'd like to introduce you to some of the wonderful people we'll celebrate over the course of the weekend. Since our new website isn't ready to show off just yet, we're sharing the interviews from our latest oral history project here. Every day leading up to the Summer Symposium, we'll feature two more stories from Women at Work in RVA.
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"Anybody can go wherever they want to go. But I found oysters took me where I needed to be." ~ Deborah Pratt
DEBORAH PRATT & CLEMENTINE BOYD MACON
Oyster Shuckers, Rappahannock River
Sisters Deborah Pratt and Clementine Boyd Macon grew up in a family of eight children in Middlesex County, Virginia, situated on the Chesapeake Bay, where the oyster industry is part of the landscape. Their parents met and fell in love in an oyster house. Most of the family shucked oysters for a living, but Deborah swore she'd never join their ranks. That is, until the night she asked Clementine to teach her how to do it because she needed a job. They sat together on Clementine's back porch, and she showed Deborah one of the tricks of the trade: open from the lip, not the hinge. In the early 1980s, Deborah and Clementine left their kids on the soccer field to compete in an oyster-shucking contest in Urbanna. The contests—and awards—keep coming. They alternate between championships: Deborah wins one; Clementine wins the next. They both hold several state and national titles. Deborah has placed in the international oyster shucking competition in Galway, Ireland, four times. Today, both their sons are moving quickly behind them, shucking faster and steadier, perhaps one day taking their crowns.
"I had been cooking for fifteen years, and I just wanted to open a butcher shop. So I figured if Julia [Child] could become a culinary icon, I could open a little butcher shop. And it kind of just gave me that extra little oomph that I needed to kind of say, you know, 'You can do this.'"
With her father in the Navy, Tanya Cauthen and her family moved every couple years, all over the world. But many of her childhood summers were spent on her grandparent's 200-acre farm in Alachua, Florida, where Tanya felt a natural affinity toward the livestock and landscape. In the early 1980s, her family settled in Virginia when her father went to work at the Pentagon. Tanya moved to Charlottesville to attend the University of Virginia, where she studied aerospace engineering and worked as a line cook for beer money. Later, she attended the American Culinary Federation apprenticeship program, finished the 3-year program a year early, and left for Switzerland to work as a journeywoman (a term for a person who's completed culinary training and has some knowledge, but still has much to learn). She returned to Virginia, this time to Richmond, to be near her sister, Karen Cauthen Miller. Tanya worked as a chef at The Red Oak and the Frog and the Redneck before starting her own catering company, Capers Catering, with Karen. She grew frustrated because she couldn't get quality cuts of meat. The problem: Richmond didn’t have a professional butcher. Tanya knocked out a business plan overnight. Nine weeks later, in 2006, she opened the doors of Belmont Butchery. The focus of the butchery is organic and humanely raised meat. Tanya connects her customers to small family farms and teaches them the value of understanding where food comes from and how it should really taste.