A gluttonous weekend of food, fun, and information at the inaugural event of Coastal Flavors in Rockport, Texas.
The backyard patio party started off with live music and an assortment of drinks, including bubbly, wine, and a choice of specialty cocktails. A team of oyster shuckers arrived, and after a few short minutes, the trays of ice beds were full of the tasty bivalves. The local oysters had just been harvested from the waters less than 5 hours before. What a great way to introduce the event.
Saturday started off early at 8:30am with “Workshops” inside the Saltwater Pavilion right on the beach. It was a beautiful sunny day and the attendees sat facing the huge bay windows with the blue waters of the Gulf as a background for the speakers.
First up was Lara Garner, Education Director of the historic Fulton Mansion, who spoke about coastal living in the late 1800’s. She went over the diet of the people, everyday foods that were available at the time, and what would be in a typical garden in a family’s backyard. Let’s just say that they ate quite a bit healthier back then than we do now. “Although they consumed up to 5,000 calories a day, there was almost no rate of obesity due to the amount of work they put in each day,” she explained.
Next was a panel of local farmers and gardeners, moderated by Four String Farm owner Justin Butts. They each spoke about the challenges of their trade in an area like Rockport. The extreme heat and soil conditions make it difficult to plant and grow there, and getting a meat protein inspected in a timely and cost effective fashion can be quite the process.
Karey then introduced Art Morris from Texas Parks and Wildlife, and David Sikes from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, who provided a wealth of information on coastal fisheries management and its future, habitat protection, and how fishermen and restaurants should start showcasing the abundant Black Drum from the area, as opposed to the decreasing population of local Trout. Pat Murray from Coastal Conservation America then discussed sustainable efforts and fishery operations in Texas and the surrounding areas.
“Ike Jime” is a Japanese term for harvesting fish in the best way possible to maintain its freshness, and expert Jim Naismith led the next discussion on this topic. This method quickly kills the fish and relaxes the flesh, allowing it to bleed out immediately and keep the quality intact. Enlightening to the audience was how important a “super freeze” of around -60 degrees Fahrenheit is needed to keep the fish from immediately starting to degrade. And who would ever know that it’s best to store fish without wrapping them in anything except perhaps newspaper or butcher paper. Cellophane and baggies are a definite no as they encourage freezer burn, a point he proved by carving up a nice red snapper that was frozen almost 2 years ago using this method. The sashimi he served tasted like it was just pulled from the sea.
Pioneer Wines representative Dennis Long was next up, discussing wine and seafood pairings as local chefs Chris Veatch of Chartoom and organizer Karey B. Johnson created small plates of shrimp, crostinis, and squid to accompany each wine.
Lastly, and perhaps the “star” of the show, was award-winning author Robb Walsh. The writer of “Sex, Death, and Oysters” and “Texas Eats” spoke on the topic of Texas/Gulf oysters and the bad wrap they get, the many appellations they have, and how we can start harvesting and marketing them to include their unique reef names like the more sought out oysters of the north. A gasp was heard in the room when Robb stated that over 50% of Gulf oysters are shipped to northern parts of the US and named something else. (Like Blue Points!)
After a short hour-long break the “Grand Tasting” was held. The well-attended party was treated to a live band and over 15 wines to get started. The platters of bites then came out in droves. Seven local restaurants impressed the guests with shrimp, duck, drum, sheepshead, flounder, squid, samphire, grouper, sushi, salads, produce, quail eggs, and more. A silent auction benefitted the Meals on Wheels program of Aransas County.
Finally, on Sunday, the weekend event ended where it began: at GLOW. The tired yet happy crowd was treated to a brunch of Mimosas, Bloody Marys, Frittatas, Pastries, and Fried Oysters.
It’s inspiring to see how the south Texas coast is concentrating on showcasing such a lively food scene, and this inaugural event did a fantastic job to create awareness, while simultaneously providing us a wealth of information and filling our stomachs with “Coastal Flavors”.
Thank you, Karey and the entire team of “Coastal Flavors Weekend”.