Tuesday, September 21, 2010

White House Chefs Enjoy Gulf Seafood

There’s a gulf of misunderstanding about the safety of seafood being harvested from the Gulf of Mexico. “When I tell them the shrimp is from Louisiana or anywhere in the Gulf a lot of customers just walk away,” shared seafood clerk, James Dicus, at Whole Foods Market in Buckhead, “They don’t understand it’s OK to eat it or it wouldn’t be here in our seafood case.” Nationwide, demand is down due to consumer concerns about potential contamination from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but the official word from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency as well as state and university based scientists who are monitoring the situation is that fish and shellfish harvested from areas reopened or never affected by the oil spill closures show no trace of oil or dispersants and are safe to eat. Seafood safety researcher, Professor John W. Bell of Louisiana State University says tests range from detailed laboratory analysis of samples to organoleptic ‘sniff tests’ conducted by highly trained investigators to detect the presence of oil, “It’s amazing how they can pick up even the faintest hint.”

“It’s never been more stringently tested,” says Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration during a recent visit to New Orleans where I joined her for a lunch of Louisiana Shrimp Po Boy sandwiches, “We have put in place with our partners at NOAA, EPA as well as state officials and seafood experts a vigorous sampling plan from the water to the docks to the marketplace.”
White House Chefs Eat Gulf Seafood
In an effort to shore up consumer confidence and help support the livelihood of thousands of fishermen and seafood companies in dozens of communities along the Gulf coast, a dozen restaurant chefs from across the country led by White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford and her assistant chef Tafari Campbell joined the FDA commissioner for a fish fact finding mission in Louisiana. “This is very, very good seafood,” said Comerford digging into steamed crab dockside at Pontchartrain Blue Crab in Slidell, “All the scientists are doing everything they can to ensure whatever comes to the market is good for public consumption. It tastes good and it’s safe what more do you need to know?”

The group went out on shrimp boats, visited a crab processing facility and dropped in to dine at several New Orleans restaurants serving Gulf seafood including Chef John Besh’s August Restaurant. Besh, who been an outspoken defender of his state’s embattled seafood industry since Hurricane Katrina’s tragic blows, continues to use his visibility to help, “This is personal for me. I am concerned about the long lasting effects on salt marsh estuaries but the monitoring of seafood now has never been this extreme and having chefs from The White House dine here is great!”
One of the chefs in the group, Jeff Tunks of Acadiana in Washington, DC says, “I get a lot of questions from customers. I’m here to learn more because they trust me to serve the best and safest seafood. I’m even more confident now, too.”

In Atlanta, chef owner Kevin Rathbun or Rathbun’s continues to offer gulf seafood on his menu for great taste and good will, “We can never turn our backs when someone is down. We’re supporting the good people of the Gulf coast.” Meanwhile, Jamshad Zarnegar owner of The Last Resort Grill in Athens continues to buy Gulf shrimp because, “My customers don’t seem concerned.” Maybe folks are smarter in a University town.

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