3-Course Interview: Tommy Waller of The Oyster Bed_lowres

Adam (left) and Tommy Waller opened The Oyster Bed.

Brothers Adam and Tommy Waller started their company The Oyster Bed (www.theoysterbed.com) in late 2014 after launching Louisiana's highest-earning Kickstarter campaign, which raised nearly $80,000 in 60 days. Their cookware is designed to cook oysters without their shells, which is meant to promote environmental awareness and help prevent coastal erosion by encouraging consumers to purchase pre-shucked oysters, thus allowing the return of shells to the estuaries to build oyster beds. U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Major Tommy Waller spoke with Gambit about how he and his brother came up with their idea and how it works.

How did you come up with the idea for The Oyster Bed?

Tommy Waller: It all originated with a little family tradition we have. Every time I deploy for the Marines, we always get a sack of oysters and we gather at the table and shuck them together. But we realized it was a lot of work to shuck them (and) get them off the grill — they're tipping everywhere, spilling everywhere. When oysters cook, they render a lot of fluid, and that can make them soggy. But if they're cooked in the right-shaped shell, they're perfect and taste great. So we started thinking about creating a platter that would fit just the right amount of fluid and started throwing around ideas.

  Adam (who works as a physical therapist) is the idea man. While I was deployed to Africa, he went and took a pottery class and started messing with the clay and figured out the design. He did a lot of research looking at all the plates from a century ago.

  It took us over a year to figure out exactly what type of material to use. We went through a lot of metals until we found this company, Wilton Armetale, and it's an extraordinary cooking material. You can get it up to 1,000 degrees and it's incredibly light.

How did you get interested in coastal restoration?

W: This is really a lot bigger than just cookware. We're losing a football field of our coast every hour in Louisiana, but oysters are just fabulous for our ecosystem: They're coastal erosion barriers. Coastal erosion is slowed down by the addition of oyster beds; they're going to hold that land there much longer.

  When we had settled on our idea, we started going to the Louisiana [Department of Wildlife and Fisheries] Oyster Task Force meetings and we started talking to biologists, conservationists, oyster fishermen. To create an oyster reef, fishermen will create what's called a substrate, which ideally, is a natural oyster shell, but often it's limestone or crushed concrete. They're just building up a foundation for the oysters to attach to.

  Oyster companies, like P&J [Oyster Company], when they shuck the oysters they keep the shells and then they give them back to the fishermen who use them to create beds. So for the consumer to cook and eat pre-shucked oysters, it really allows the shells to be returned to the oyster beds.

  We have some of the best seafood in the world, but I don't know if a lot people realize the importance of that coastal environment. ... [W]e try to take every chance to remind folks of that.

How does your product work for the home cook?

W: You can place the pre-shucked oyster — or anything else you want to cook — into the well. There are individual cooking wells for each oyster — each well can hold 15 milliliters of fluid — and the rest drains out into a channel and then into a reservoir — all that extra fluid drains ... and doesn't make whatever you're cooking soggy. And juices that collect in the reservoir? That becomes a fight at the table with some French bread; it comes out of the oven like the best soup you've ever had.