Louisiana Seafood Beyond the Borders
Surrounded by oyster happy hours, crawfish boils and shrimp po-boys in every sizeable Louisiana town, it’s easy to forget that out-of-state visitors come here specifically seeking out the state’s indigenous cuisines and abundant seafood. What outsiders consider delicacies, we just call “dinner.” And considering that nearly a third of the domestic seafood consumed in the United States comes from Louisiana, it’s hard to get around one fact: when it comes to fish, we’re pretty darn spoiled.
San Francisco seafood distributor Jimmy Galle knows this better than anyone. He’s a Gulf Coast native who has been in the industry for 40 years. After cooking professionally for over a decade, he moved to California to work as a distributor. “During my time there, I saw there was a place for Louisiana shrimp, since it was nonexistent in the market.” So, in 2009, he bought a pickup truck and two ice chests, and began selling to local restaurants. A bold move, no doubt. But according to Galle, Gulf shrimp’s inherently rich flavor makes it an easy sell.
Fast-forward seven years, and Galle’s company Gulfish has moved beyond shrimp, selling a full line of Gulf Coast seafood to award-winning restaurants nationwide. Those include James Beard Award-winner The French Laundry in Napa Valley, the MGM Mirage group in Las Vegas, and ESCA, a celebrated Italian restaurant in New York co-founded by celebrity chef Mario Batali. Dine at one of these restaurants, and you’ll know that the fish you’re eating came from one of the small day boat operators Galle deals with directly.
Ben Pollinger is another big believer in Louisiana seafood. As the executive chef at New York City restaurant Oceana, he is extremely selective about what goes on his plates.
At his Michelin-starred fine dining mecca, you’ll find Gulf shrimp, cobia and snapper served alongside Norwegian halibut and New Zealand mussels. The dinner menu lists seafood from some of the world’s top fisheries, and Louisiana’s hanging right in there among them.
Pollinger buys his shrimp directly from Four Winds Seafood, a small family-run commercial fishing operation in Chalmette. After Hurricane Katrina wrought damage throughout the Gulf Coast in 2005, Louisiana’s state government implemented a recovery program that connected chefs directly with commercial fishermen. Pollinger picked Four Winds, a company that also supplies shrimp to Dickie Brennan & Company restaurants.
“It’s good to know that I’m working with an operator there,” Pollinger says. He notes that it’s uncommon for New York chefs like him to bypass distributors to buy directly off a boat that’s over a thousand miles away, but in his line of work, having a tight relationship with his suppliers is essential.
It comes down to a matter of flavor and consistency, he says, listing off reasons why he makes an extra effort to work with Louisiana’s commercial fishermen. “The water’s great, the fishing opportunities are good, it’s dependable…. The product speaks for itself.”