Above: Chef Shaddock alongside buckets of oyster shells ready for recycling. Credit: VASG/Ian Vorster.
By VASG Communications Center Manager Ian Vorster
“Great, I’m going, it feels like home,” exclaims Chef Jacki Shaddock as she opens her report to the Virginia Chef’s Association. After a stint in Vermont, she returned to Williamsburg and learned that the Chef’s Seafood Symposium was still running strong.
“One of the first things I tried to do when I started here at the James Landing Grill was to apply the knowledge that I received from the Chef’s Seafood Symposium when I was seventeen,” she continues. “And being away for five years made me realize how crazy aquaculture had got, and I needed to get up to speed—I had like seventeen oysters I had to try, but I also learned about the oyster shell recycling program.”
Chef Shaddock who is the current secretary of the association was clearly enthusiastic about shellfish and the Symposium. She now saves around 70,000 oyster shells annually—all of which are returned to the Bay, and she has learned which fish are local, for example, she didn’t know that mackerel occur here. That knowledge has greatly reduced the amount of frozen product she serves. “By next year this time, we hope to have around 75 percent of our menu as fresh, local and sustainable,” she notes.
Collected shells are cured at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rice Rivers Center as part of the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP), before being bagged by students and volunteers. Those bagged shells are seeded with larval oysters at the spat (once oyster larvae attach to a surface, such as other oyster shells, they are known as spat) setting facility on Gwynn’s Island through a partnership between the VCU Rice Rivers Center and Island Seafood. The seeded shells are placed on sanctuary reefs in the Piankatank or lower Rappahannock Rivers.
Once oyster larvae attach to a surface, such as other oyster shells, they are known as spat.
“By next year this time, we hope to have around 75 percent of our menu as fresh, local and sustainable.” Chef Shaddock
Todd V. Janeski the director of the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program at VCU adds, “Recently, the VOSRP partnered with WE Kellum Oyster and Friends of Rappahannock to restore and dedicate a historic oyster rock, now called the Ellery Kellum Rock in memory of the grandfather of Tommy Kellum, owner of WE Kellum Oyster. Once the annual collection of VOSRP’s shells are seeded with spat, they will return more than 15-million oysters to the Chesapeake.”
The Virginia Chef’s Seafood Symposium is a professional education event that was started by Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) and several members of the Virginia Chef’s Association to educate and inform the industry about the science of the Chesapeake Bay and its products. Handouts given to chefs have proven to be extremely helpful as well, for example the Virginia Seafood Seasonality Chart. “It was a great way to get information about seafood science when it was started years ago, “says VASG extension agent and Marine Education Program Leader Lisa Lawrence. “Back then the percentage of culinary students attending was really low—at one point around 20 percent. But it grew to 30 percent, 40 percent, and this past year 47 percent of the participants were students. We average between 100 and 150 attendees now. It has really developed into a great educational experience about the Bay, its oysters, and other resources.”
Structured as a formal continuing education program, the Symposium offers continuing education hours from the American Culinary Federation that can be used toward a Chef’s renewal certificate. Consequently, upcoming culinarians comprise almost half of the symposium attendees.
Sustainability is a key tenet of the program. Former participants have said that the Chef’s Symposium is probably one of the best educational seminars they have attended during the year—it makes them cook better because they have learned to respect the ingredient, and where it came from.
Chef Shaddock addresses a gathering at a quarterly meeting of the Virginia Chef's Association at the James Landing Grill.