Gulf Coast Gathering: 1st Annual Foodways Texas Symposium Recap

Foodways Texas hosted our “Gulf Coast Gathering,” the first annual Foodways Texas Symposium February 25-26, 2011 in Galveston, Texas. Guests from across Texas and the U. S. attended.

We began at the Texas Seaport Museum, where Dr. Sammy Ray was honored with the inaugural Foodways Texas Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Ray’s exceptional work as a marine biologist has had a profound impact on the fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico for many decades, and he is known around the country for his pioneering research on oysters in and around Galveston Bay.

The programming continued at the Texas A&M University Galveston campus, where we engaged in discussion on a wide range of issues impacting the Gulf of Mexico.

Joe Nick Patoski took us on a photographic tour of the entire 377-mile Texas gulf coast, and challenged us to take a fresh look at the stories our diverse coastline holds. To limit our discussion of the coast to our beaches is to miss most of the story, which occurs in our back bays, estuaries, and barrier islands.

Elizabeth Engelhardt provided an in-depth look at the semantics of the term “foodways,” and how it applies to our mission. Foodways, we learned, includes not only what we eat but why and with whom we eat it. Our foodways signifies our values, our priorities, where we’ve been, where we’re going, and much more. Amy Evans Streeter showcased a sampling of the intriguing oral histories she has gathered for the Southern Foodways Alliance, and we discussed how Foodways Texas will soon embark on our own project to gather similar stories.

Jenny Wang moderated a discussion with Bryan Caswell of Reef, Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due, and P. J. Stoops of Louisiana Foods on bycatch and Gulf sustainability, a sobering discussion on the wastefulness that can accompany commercial fishing, shrimping, and oystering. We learned that for every one pound of shrimp taken from the Gulf, four to twenty pounds of bycatch is discarded. Our panelists spoke about the different types of fish available in the Gulf, as well as the many mollusks and other edible creatures that are ignored by fisherman, restaurants, and the general public.

After lunch, John Nova Lomax provided some levity by introducing us to “Gator” Miller of Gator Press, who regaled us with a live oral history of dive bars and gulf coast culture in and around the unincorporated village of San Leon, Texas. Also on the roster was author Ellen Sweets, who insightfully profiled the evolution and struggles of Vietnamese fishing communities along the Texas Coast since the 1970s.

Robb Walsh led a the final discussion of the day with a panel studded with experts in the oyster community, including Jon Rowley, Dr. Sammy Ray, Jim Gossen, Tracy Woody, and Misho Ivic about the lost oyster appellations of Galveston Bay. We discussed the surprising diversity of oysters in Galveston Bay, and learned that the Texas gulf coast has more wild oysters than anyplace else in the world.

Throughout the symposium, guests enjoyed meals prepared by chefs from across Texas. Tim Byres of Smoke in Dallas served dinner on Friday night to a delighted crowd at the Texas Seaport Museum. The menu included oyster stew, grilled black drum, and vanilla rice pudding with canella churro. Chris Shepherd of Catalan Food and Wine in Houston dished up oyster fried pies and shrimp and corn cornbread for lunch on Saturday at the Texas A&M, Galveston campus. Also on the menu were oyster drills, predatory snails that prey on Gulf oysters.

The final event of the weekend occurred at Gaido’s, the iconic 100-year-old restaurant along the sea wall in Galveston. Jim Gossen of Louisiana Foods treated attendees to an historic oyster tasting that included a dozen different oyster appellations from the Gulf region. Jeri’s Seafood, Misho’s Oyster Company, and Prestige Oyster, Inc. donated the nine Texas oyster appellations, while Bill Walton from Auburn University provided one each from Alabama and Florida and John Tesvich from Ameripure Oysters provided one from Louisiana. With plenty of oysters to go around, each guest was able to try all twelve appellations. Afterward, Gaido’s served up their famous stuffed flounder and baked oyster platter while blues guitarist The Mighty Orq entertained the guests.

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