Food waste is the bane of restaurant kitchens. Waste directly impacts the financial bottom line, and chefs have long used creative methods to utilize as much of a plant or animal as possible in meal preparation — think of using shrimp shells for seafood stock, or how authentic tamales are cooked in cornhusks.
It’s time for Louisiana to take ideas and best practices from our talented chefs and employ them in creative ways to tackle some of our state’s most pressing issues. Take the oyster shell for instance. When collected, the shells can be returned to their coastal brackish water homes, used to rebuild oyster reefs, and aid in coastal restoration.
Unfortunately, we don’t treat shells as a natural resource. House Concurrent Resolution Number 26 sponsored by state Rep. JP Coussan, R-Lafayette, would fix that by directing a state study, determining shells’ final destination. With a report, the state could proceed to securing the shells for utilization along our eroding coast.
Some shells are already being used. The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring our disappearing shore, started an oyster shell program in 2014, and to date has recycled more than 10 million pounds of shells, resulting in the protection of 7,000 feet of shoreline and the creation of acres of reef habitat.
I serve as the executive director of Chef’s Brigade, an organization of 85 restaurants, producing meals for the City of New Orleans and FEMA’s Meal Assistance Program. Over ten months, the brigade working with Revolution Foods, New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute (NOCHI) and d’livery NOLA has been daily producing thousands of meals as part of New Orleans COVID-19 feeding plan, feeding people who are experiencing food insecurity.
The program has meant restaurant workers going back to work and doing something they love: feeding people. Similarly, many of our local restaurants use a lot of oysters and the leftover shells could be put to good use in our endangered marshes and other areas.
Several of our brigade members have joined CRCL’s Oyster Shell Recycling Program, and it is a natural fit. The program provides training for restaurant staff, and bins to collect the shells. CRCL has installed recycled shell reefs in Biloxi Marsh, Pointe-au-Chen and Barataria Bay, and just secured funding for two more reefs. Chef’s Brigade has been covering the fee for our brigade members, because we strongly believe in sustainability programs like these and we are proud of our partnership with CRCL.
The Legislature needs to support this resolution. The shells assist fishers, replenish the starved reefs, and aid coastal restoration. Hopefully in the near future, we’ll all be able to eat a dozen raw Louisiana oysters at our favorite seafood joint, and at the same time, know we’re doing our part to save local restaurants and our coast.
Troy Gilbert heads New Orleans' Chef's Brigade.