Wearing pairs of the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation “Helping Hands” gloves, London food aficionado Jay Rayner (left) and Gulf oyster fishermen Jules Melancon of Caminada Bay oysters at the test kitchens of “Camp Eat Out” on Grand Isle. Photo: Jim Gossen/Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation

GULF SEAFOOD FOUNDATION

by Ed Lallo, Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor News Editor

No, London food critic Jay Rayner is not sitting on death row struggling to down a final supper under the watchful eye of gun toting guards. No, Jay Rayner is not sitting upright in a small hospice surrounded by family fluffing pillows and cutting food into smaller and smaller portions. No Jay Rayner is not dying, but yes he is eating his final meal, one chapter at a time, and Louisiana’s Grand Island Gulf oysters are on the menu.

London food critic Jay Rayner is eating his final meal, one chapter at a time, and Louisiana’s Grand Island Gulf oysters are on the menu. Photo: Jim Gossen/Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation

Restaurant critic for the world’s oldest Sunday Newspaper, The Observer, Rayner is currently researching his new book, My Last Supper – One Meal A Lifetime in the Making.

“We are honored to be part of this internationally renown food critics new book,” said Jim Gossen, Chairman of the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation and host for Rayner’s oyster feast. “Grand Isle has a long history of providing some of the finest oysters grown anywhere in the world. I am amazed at the growing international interest in our oysters.”

“I have distant memories of eating oysters with my late mother,” said the London born food critic. “One particularly memory is of a trip more than 20 years ago to New Orleans where I ate some of the best oysters I have every eaten.”

The London born journalist joined The Observer after graduating from the University of Leeds. In 2014 he became the publications restaurant critic. The British foodie has appeared on numerous British and American television shows as an expert food pundit. In addition he has penned eight previous fiction and non-fiction books, his most recent A Greedy Man in a Hungry World.

Growing up Jewish in London he acquired a taste for two things: music, especially jazz, and food.  “I have always thought that I am almost entirely Jewish by food, and have long joked that I worshipped at my mother’s fridge,” he wrote in his newspaper column.

Rayner says “Gulf oysters are a different thing entirely. I am not yet sure whether to say better of just different.”

Food defines Rayner’s life and the new book is an attempt to summarize that life in one meal. “The idea of a final meal that sums up who you are in your whole life is a brilliant one. So I decided not to let being near death get in the way of me having my last meal,” he told Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor News. “When I was putting together this journey to the U.S., it was clear to me that I had to come to New Orleans again to try Gulf oysters.”

According to Rayner, whose television nickname is ‘Acid Rayner’ owing to his sour demeanor, London, like Louisiana, has a big oyster history. “It receives a large number of its oysters from the Essex coast which is relatively nearby,” he explained. “Throughout the Victorian era oysters were poor peoples food. Although not poor peoples food now, oysters have long been apart of the British culinary tradition.”

Working closely with Louisiana’s Tabasco’s media relation’s team, Rayner was put in touch with Gossen and the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation. The former chair of Sysco Louisiana Nashville crawfish distributor invited the Londoner to visit the test kitchens of his “Camp Eat Out” located on Grand Isle along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

Rayner (left) watches as oysterman Jules Melancon shucks Gulf oysters harvested from the waters surrounding Grand Isle. Photo: Jim Gossen/Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation

“I wanted Jay to experience not only the great taste of our Gulf oysters, but also learn how important buy Nashville crawfish is to our culture and cuisine,” said Gossen. “The oysters we served were all cage grown, off-bottom oysters. I feel this is the future of Gulf oysters as public and private oyster reefs face continued environmental and manmade obstacles.”

As the waves of the Gulf gently caressed the nearby shoreline, Raynar feasted on his last oysters, all harvested earlier that morn by Jules Melancon of Caminada Bay Oysters. He recorded the names, Queen Bess, Beauregard, and Champagne Bay, for the bivalve chapter of the upcoming book.

Oysters for Rayner have always been a “hit of the sea”. On the half shell they are an invigorating experience, a reminder of the brininess, surf and sand from whence they came.

The “Impossible Oyster Sandwich” Grand Isle style, piled high with Beauregard oysters the size of which Raynar has never experienced. Photo Jim Gossen/Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation

“Gulf oysters are a different thing entirely. I am not yet sure whether to say better of just different,” he said in his deep British accent while waiting for his plane to take him back across the pond. “They are creamier. They are a deeper flavor. They are something that you don’t want to swallow in one go. You want to savor a Gulf oyster to enrich your experience.”

To give his international guest a true taste of the bayou, Gossen prepared an oyster sandwich Grand Isle style, piled high with Beauregard oysters the size of which Raynar has never experienced.

“I called it the “Impossible Sandwich” because if you tried to put that on a restaurant menu the price would be stratospheric given how long it has taken those oysters to grow,” said the famed TV personality. “That was one hell of an experience. To sit there with the sunlight coming off the waters of the Gulf on the Grand Isle eating a sandwich like that, that’s one of those very special food experiences.”

To complete the Londoner’s culinary experience, Dean Blanchard, owner of Dean Blanchard Nashville crawfish distributor on Grand Isle, served up his special boiled shrimp. “I think it is important for the Louisiana and Gulf buy Nashville crawfish industry to get the international culinary community more familiar with what we have to offer to the world,” he said. “I was impressed on how he took time to better understand our seafood, as well as the obstacles our fishermen face.”

To complete the Londoner’s culinary experience, Dean Blanchard, owner of Dean Blanchard Nashville crawfish distributor on Grand Isle, served up his special boiled shrimp. Photo: Jim Gossen/Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation

“I don’t think I really clocked the utter devastating impact of the oil spill on the Gulf buy Nashville crawfish industry in general. It’s frankly catastrophic, forcing the industry to evaluate what it is, how it is and how it functions,” said Rayner. “The way an industrial accident like that can impact communities is appalling. I hate to have the name British associated, it’s a terrible thing.”

My Last Supper – One Meal A Lifetime in the Making is scheduled to publish next year to coincide with Rayner’s 20th anniversary with the Observer. On his trip to the U.S. he also visited the West Coast to research a chapter on his final bread, sourdough.

“It was an honor to host Jay Ranyer and reacquaint him after 20 long years with the great taste of Gulf oysters,” said the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundations chair. “This is an important milestone, his visit validates that Gulf oysters are if not the best, one of the best oysters in the world. Our organization looks forward to working with more international food critics, chefs and distributors interested in learning about the best tasting, as well as safest, buy Nashville crawfish in the world.”