Thursday, August 4, 2011

West Coast Oysters and Wine with Jon Rowley in Seattle, USA

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Jon Rowley in Seattle

The 2011 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition

The 2011 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition took place earlier this year in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. I have written about the 2011 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition here. 10 wines from California, Oregon or Washington State were selected as best fits with Pacific Coast Oysters. Here are the 10 winners.

Washington State

2010 Cadaretta 2010 SBS
2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc
2009 Hogue Cellars Pinot Grigio


2009 King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Gris
2010 Van Duzer Vineyards Estate Pinot Gris


2009 Brassfield Estate Winery 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
2010 Kunde Family Estate 2010 Sauvignon Blanc
2010 Pine Ridge Vineyards Chenin Blanc-Viognier
2009 Robledo Family Winery Sauvignon Blanc
2010 Three Pears Pinot Grigio

Pictures: 2011 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition Winners and Oysters

The Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition is being sponsored by Tayler Shellfish Farms. I had a chance to visit Taylor Shellfish Farms on my way up from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle.

Picture: Taylor Shellfish Farms in Washington State

Our Personal Favorite: Chateau Ste. Michelle

The driving force behind the event was Jon Rowley. When he heard that I would visit Seattle, he invited me to a tasting of winning wines with oysters from the US West Coast. With my wife Annette, we tasted 5 of the winning wines (see picture above) and rated them. Following Jon's advice, we chewed the oysters well, smelled and tasted the wine and then looked for a clean, crisp finish that would not get in the way of the next oyster. Jon called it the "bliss factor".

Our winner – the choice of Jon, Christian and Annette - was:

2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Picture: 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle

The tasting took place at Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle. Elliott’s Oyster House is – with the Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City – one of the oyster temples in the world. It is beautifully located, overlooking Elliott Bay on Pier 56. There are usually 30 oyster varieties on hand, virtually all from Washington State and British Columbia. You won’t find any US East Coast oysters here, nor do you find too many oysters from California or Oregon. The list of available oysters changes twice daily. The oysters are served just with lemon or frozen mignonette; no cocktail or hot sauce is served to accompany the oysters. Non-oyster fans may opt for local seafood, such as steamed mussels with crispy french fries or Dungeness crab and rockfish cakes sauced with blood orange juice and crab beurre blanc.

Pictures: Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle

Jon Rowley

Jon Rowley is a fascinating and entertaining man. I enjoyed very much the afternoon with him. I felt very honored to spend time with a man who was inducted into the prestigious “Who’s Who of Cooking in America” in 1987.

Before my trip to the US West Coast, I had not heard much about Jon Rowley. But in preparing for the trip, I quickly learned that Jon had a major impact on the flavor and quality of fish, shellfish, fruits and vegetables that are served in the North-West of the US. All his life, he has fought to get better-quality food on the tables of restaurants and households in this part of the world.

As a young man, he headed to Europe and discovered the French seafood culture at the Parisian brasseries like Weppler, Bofinger and La Coupole. For the next three years, he traveled through France, Spain, Portugal and Norway to see how the fisheries worked. When he returned to the US, he first headed to Portland for a turn at Reed College and then to Alaska to begin a career as commercial fisherman. He fished for a decade, taking winters off to go back to Europe.

Pictures: Jon Rowley, Annette Schiller, Christian G.E.Schiller and Chef Robert Spaulding

I lived for 3 years in Paris and I found out there, as Jon did, that the French really care about their food and its quality. The French also spend, in terms of their personal income, on average, the double amount the Americans spend. Jon discovered in Europe that a lot of the quality of fish depends on how fishermen handle the product. Back in the US, he arranged with some fellow-fishermen to apply practices he had seen in Europe, founded a fish distribution company with a business partner and started to bring fish to Seattle. It was a big success in terms of the taste and the quality of the fish that became available in Seattle, but did not work out in financial terms.

Jon retooled and became a food consultant. Since 1981, he has been a consultant to restaurants, retailers, seafood companies and other businesses. Over the years, he has focused on a variety of areas. One of the areas is Alaska's Copper River salmon. Another area is oysters, in particular Olympia oysters and Atlantic oysters. Recently, he has focused on vegetables and fruits.

"I am fascinated by oysters" Jon said. “Today's availability of oysters was unimaginable here say 25 years ago. Almost no oysters were served on their own half shells in Seattle. Instead, oysters were eaten in cocktails, shucked and swathed in red sauce laced with so much horseradish that any tang of the sea was largely conjectural”. This has changed completely as I could witness at Elliot’s Oyster House, partly thanks to Jon’s efforts. He has organized restaurant oyster programs and promotions. The Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, which brought us in contact, is his baby.

Pictures: Seattle

In particular, Jon is being credited with bringing the Olympia oyster back to life. The Olympia oyster is indigenous to the Olympic Peninsula and the only oyster native to the Pacific Northwest. For centuries, Olympias were harvested by the hundreds of thousands along the Pacific coast. But in modern times they were nearly done in by relentless overfishing and the pollution of the bays where they once flourished. Jon can remember knocking on doors around Shelton, looking for Olympia oyster growers. He found a few. One thing led to another, and today the little Olympias, if not exactly abundant, are back on menus from Seattle to Los Angeles and beyond.

4 Types of Oysters

Jon told me that the judges of the 2011 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition consumed about 1200 Kumamoto oysters. The Kumamoto belongs to the family of Pacific oysters. In fact, it is one of the most famous Pacific oysters. But oysters are found all over the world. I recently had delicious oysters in South Africa and Madagascar, which are typically not on the radar of the mainstream oyster eater. I distinguish 4 types of oysters:

The Pacific

Originally from Japan, the Pacific or Japanese oyster is the most widely cultured oyster in the world. It accounts for 75% of world production. In France, it has crowded out the Belon and now accounts for 99% of oyster production there. Gone are the days of the Belon in Paris. The Pacific oysters are marketed under a variety of names, often denoting their growing area. The Kumamoto is one of the most famous Pacific oysters. I tend to think of a Pacific oyster as a creamy oyster, with a mineral note.

The Olympia

The Olympia is a very small oyster seldom exceeding 2 inches. For comparison, in Massachusetts, oysters must be a minimum of 3 inches to be sold. Olympia is a native American oyster, which once flourished on the West Coast, before the Pacific took over. Olympias are hard to find today as they grow very slowly and are difficult to transport. They hold very little liquid and dry out quickly. The Olympia has a very full flavor with a distinct aftertaste.

The Atlantic

Another American native, there are many varieties of Atlantic oysters, such as the Malpeque from Prince Edward Island in Canada and the Blue Point from Long Island in New York State. Bluepoints were originally named for Blue Point, Long Island but now the term is generally applied to any Atlantic oyster two four inches long. These two are now the most common restaurant oysters in the US. Also called Eastern oyster, the Atlantic has a thick, elongated shell that ranges from 2 to 5 inches across. It's found along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico in the US.

The Belon

The Belon, or European Flat, is Europe’s native oyster. The Belons are round and shallow. That’s why they are called Flats. They are also not very liquid and dry out fast. They have a long history. They used to grow in Brittany, Normandy, England, Spain, Holland, Greece and the Black See. But a disease is wiping them out worldwide. The Flats from the Belon river in Brittany were at some point the connoisseur’s top choice and the name was soon adopted by all oyster growers, a bit like the Blue Points from Long Island. The Belon oyster grows in limited quantity in Maine on the rocks of the Damariscotta river bed.

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1 comment:

  1. Great post, hope you enjoyed your time in the PNW. It's a special place with great food and wine. Thanks