On the spot: Stephen Stryjewski, Cochon
While Cochon in New Orleans is primarily known for its meats and sausages made in-house, its owners’ allegiance to Gulf seafood has kept many of its customers loyal to the eatery, even after the devastating oil spill. At the Cajun restaurant, co-owners Stephen Stryjewski and Donald Link feature handmade crawfish pies, roasted oysters and other seafood specialties, in addition to the boudin, andouille, smoked bacon and head cheese they produce in-house. SeafoodSource recently talked to Stryjewski, the restaurant’s head chef, about the quality and availability of Gulf seafood.
Blank: What happened to Cochon’s business after the oil spill?
Stryjewski: Last summer, our seafood sales and profit margin definitely took a hit. Oysters doubled in price, shrimp went up and everything went up even as demand went down. People were not fishing. Supply is getting better. There are a lot more people fishing again. The number of people asking questions [about Gulf seafood safety] has subsided significantly.
What Gulf seafood items do you buy?
I don’t stray from Gulf seafood. It is easy for me to maintain a market for it. We sell a ton of oysters, and use only Gulf oysters, from western Louisiana and Texas. We use a lot of catfish that we buy from wild catfish fishermen. We use a lot of shrimp, which comes out of Lake Hermitage, water that is protected by a natural land barrier. We use a lot of farm-raised redfish. There is a movement here to legalize line fishing for wild redfish. The cost of redfish is really high because it is farmed, and I would rather use wild than farmed.
Where do you source your Gulf seafood?
I buy from people I trust, and that has always worked in the past. I buy shrimp from Harlon Pearce of LA Fish & Seafood. I have been purchasing oysters from P & J Oysters for years. Their sources are reliable, and they are purchasing good oysters. I get my crab meat from Ponchartrain Blues.
What are your concerns about Gulf seafood in the coming year?
This year, I am really nervous about the oyster harvest. It will be interesting to see how the oysters come back. Freshwater diversion was a big problem — tons and tons of freshwater [was pumped into the Mississippi Delta]. The oysters were not as big, but they were big enough to survive. In the next season or two, it will be evident whether the oysters will survive.
How will Louisiana seafood be impacted by the oil spill over the long term?
I have to believe that Gulf seafood is safe. I put my faith in the government. I am not worried about the Louisiana seafood brand as a whole. In New Orleans, we have learned to embrace adversity and come back better, and that will be the case again with seafood. The Louisiana brand will be something that people will embrace. People realize that the quality of Louisiana shrimp, crab and catfish, for example, is better than imported product. I think it will come back much stronger.
Also, the people that will come back to fishing will be those interested in delivering a better product. More fishermen are moving into techniques that are artisan, such as shoveling shrimp instead of vacuum pumping and using cold-plate refrigeration instead of seawater storage. These techniques can differentiate Louisiana products from imported products.