Estabrook’s New York Times Magazine Debut–The Catch: How one determined writer put a Maine island on the map–not only for its seafood, but also for the people who catch it.

Though we had agreed to meet at 9 a.m., Ingrid Bengis-Palei woke me at 7, shouting from the bottom of the stairs leading to the apartment where I was staying above her barn on Deer Isle, Me. She had orders for 600 oysters, a third of which had to be overnighted to Beverly Hills to Bouchon, owned by Thomas Keller, one of the two dozen high-end chefs who buy oysters, crab, clams, scallops, mussels and lobsters from Ingrid Bengis Seafood. Those oysters had to be acquired, iced, packed and shipped by 3:30 that July afternoon, and she wanted to leave plenty of time. “The easy part is when it’s a beautiful day and everybody does what they’re supposed to do,” said Bengis-­Palei, dressed in a yellow slicker to ward off the drumming rain, as she sped in her Subaru station wagon over the island’s narrow, wet roads. “But usually a crisis of one kind or another comes up.”

It was 8:30 when we finally arrived at the Bagaduce River. Jesse Leach, who farms oysters in the warm, salty waters of the estuary, was waiting beside his truck. The only thing visible under the hood of his raincoat was his dripping mustache. “They said there was a chance of thunderstorms, so we got out early for you, Ingrid,” he said, rolling out his vowels. We boarded Leach’s skiff, a flat-bottomed vessel propelled by a feeble outboard. A disconcerting amount of rainwater sloshed around our feet as we putt-putted out to Leach’s farm: dozens of white buoys in the middle of the river that were supporting plastic-mesh bags containing the growing oysters. We tied up at a raft that Leach uses as a sorting station, and he pulled a basket of two-inch-long oysters out of the water. “Small ones,” he said. “The way you like them.”

Bengis-Palei ignored him. Her attention was fixed on the oysters, which she was raking critically with her index finger. “Some of the chefs have been complaining that the shells are brittle and that the liquid has drained out,” she said. “Why is that?”

Continue reading from the New York Times Magazine, October 10, 2010

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1 comment

  1. victoria says:

    If only more people would remember that food is about the people who grow, raise or make it too. It’s not just about how cheap it is at the supermarket or how little they can buy it for to reduce their restaurant overheads.

    Thanks so much for a truly fabulous article,

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