Pensacola, Florida
Friday December 15th 2017

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Foo Foo Fest 2017: Shells And All

By Shelby Nalepa

A brand new food event hopes to give back to our region’s oysters as much as they’ve given us. Peat & Pearls will highlight local chefs and oyster farmers, which organizer Terry Strickland anticipates will bring more awareness to the preservation of our oyster reefs.

In August, heavy rains devastated a significant portion of Pensacola Bay’s oyster crops.

“Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. is one sliver of a much larger story that is playing out across the Gulf Coast,” Strickland said. “It’s a story that matters deeply, whether or not you consider yourself a ‘foodie.’”

Strickland said that over the last decade, storms, droughts and oil spills have ravaged wild reefs and devastated the livelihoods of many of the region’s traditional oystermen.

“If we can get people invested in the story of oysters, we can get them invested in the story of our coastal environment, and if we can convince them to value oysters as more than a commodity, we have a shot at doing some good,” he said.

Strickland said that a new breed of oyster farmers are preserving the working waterfronts of the Gulf Coast, restoring coastal environments with new techniques and reviving regional varieties of shellfish that haven’t been seen in decades.

“The boutique oyster movement has made oysters ‘sexy’ again, which might sound pretentious,” he said. “The interesting thing, though, is that oysters are sort of a sentinel species. They’re filter feeders and embody the characteristics of their environment. That makes them interesting from a gastronomic perspective, in the same way that wine is interesting. But it also makes them important from an environmental perspective.”

Ticket sales for the Peat & Pearls event will also benefit the oyster shell-recycling program run by Keep Pensacola Beautiful.

“Recycling oyster shells is always important, but it’s particularly critical now,” he said. “Our area will soon start seeing more restoration funding from the BP oil spill. Millions have been set aside for reef restoration work. However, for that work to proceed uninterrupted, we’ll need a steady supply of shells.”

Admission to the main event, on Sunday, Nov. 5, includes oyster and Scotch tastings.

“We’ll have about a dozen oyster farms represented, about as many chefs and whiskey programming by Glenfiddich and Old Hickory Whiskey Bar,” Strickland said. “We’ll also have live music, a cigar garden, chef’s demos and a bundle of other things going on. If Scotch isn’t your cup of tea, we’ll be offering tasting flights of champagne and sparkling wines, as well.”

The VIP dinner on Monday will feature Chefs James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst. Briscione is a Pensacola native, two-time “Chopped” champ and host of “Man Crafted,” on the Food Network.

“James is an expert in molecular gastronomy and the science of flavor,” Strickland said.

Briscione will be joined in the kitchen by local guest chef Frank Taylor of Global Grill and his team. Together, Strickland said, they’ll be cooking a five-course dinner featuring oysters with whiskey and wine pairings for each course.

“We intend to make this an annual event and are already laying the groundwork for next year,” Strickland said.

Chefs at Peat & Pearls will include Irv Miller of Jackson’s Steakhouse, Dan Dun of H20 at the Hilton Pensacola Beach, Chris Sherrill of Salt at San Roc Cay, Drew Dzejak of Alys Beach, Gregg McCarthy of The Grand Marlin and Chris Rainosek of The Noble South in Mobile.

“Food is family. We’re all connected by it, whether or not we’ve ever met,” Strickland said. “The more deeply we understand those connections, the richer our experience will be and the deeper our empathy. We’ve spent the last couple of centuries, obliterating these ties, cheapening our experience and alienating ourselves from our environment and our neighbors. It’s time to change that.”

PEAT & PEARLS
WHAT: A culinary events celebrating oysters and scotch
WHEN: 3-7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5
WHERE: Barkley House, 410 S. Florida Blanca
COST: $75 plus fees
DETAILS: peatandpearls.com

VIP DINNER
WHAT: A multi-course dinner hosted by celebrity chefs James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
WHEN: 6-10 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6
WHERE: Lee House, 400 Bayfront Parkway
COST: $125 plus fees
DETAILS: peatandpearls.com