Romancing the Oyster
by Emily Portman
Martha’s Vineyard in February is a stark place. The damp cold starts to settle onto your bones, soup becomes the main source of sustenance, and each town’s center looks unsettlingly like Cold War-era East Berlin. As human interaction becomes sporadic and the body-shaped imprint on the couch more permanently defined, everyone is looking for an excuse to get out of the house. And if February has one thing going for it, it’s oysters.
Which made for quite the turnout at the Harbor View for their winter event, Romancing the Oyster. The gathering was a joint fundraiser for the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group and the Edgartown Shellfish Growers’ Association, a newly formed organization to help promote the interests of oyster farmers in Katama Bay. (That night, the growers in attendance included Blue Moon, Signature, Sweet Neck, Honeysuckle, Autumn, Roysters, Spear Point and Long Point.)
Guests were greeted at the door with Oyster Quotes, fortune cookie-like slips of paper with short shellfish sayings. One, from Hector Hugh Munro, writer and oyster aficionado, read: “You needn’t tell me that a man who doesn’t love oysters and asparagus and good wines has got a soul, or a stomach either. He’s simply got the instinct for being unhappy highly developed.”
The ensuing scene inside was all a blur of shell and cocktail sauce, as oystermen shucked to keep up with demand and guests tore through the 3,000 oysters that had been donated for the night. In addition to raw, there were grilled and fried oysters and an oyster chowder prepared by the Harbor View kitchen.
Chef Nathan Gould, an enthusiastic proponent of the burgeoning local shellfish industry, has developed close relationships with many of the growers. Understanding the process and being in touch with the farmers themselves— having the daily ocean-to-plate context for each oyster—helps Nathan enhance each dining experience. “For me, it’s a story I can tell every guest that sits in here,” he remarked. And one that we’re happy to listen to—as long as it ends on the half-shell.