Hi! Donna Monaco Olsen here, co-coordinator for the Taste of Westchester Continuing Education program for Westchester Community College. All classes are held within Westchester restaurants, where local chefs share their talents and recipes with us in their own dining rooms.
On a recent trip to Rhode Island, education stepped out onto the waters of South Kingstown. While dining, for the fifth time in a month at a restaurant 3 hours from home, I began to wonder how it came to be so successful. Matunuck Oyster Bar is packed nightly with locals and visitors alike, as I discovered while waiting 90 minutes for a “spot in heaven” and chatted over cocktails with many other Westchesterites. Some have summer homes on the shores of RI and others were taking early vacations.
On my most recent visit, I got to interact (for only a moment) with the master mind behind it all, Perry Raso. I told him of my quest for learning from where the food on the plate originates and the process it takes to get there. His ingredients incorporated into his menu do not travel far, as Matunuck Oyster Farm (a shellfish nursery started in 2002 on a seven acre commercial aquaculture lease on Potter’s Pond) is just outside of the inlet where we were dining. Matunuck Oyster Farm supplies the Pond to Plate concept for the restaurant with fresh oysters harvested right off the waterfront patio where I was sitting. They also have a clam bed and vegetable farm that produce the freshest ingredients showcased in their dishes.
Here is the best beet salad ever (having sampled many incarnations). I think it was the fact that the greens were freshly picked that day from his farm a few miles down the road, making the baby lettuces taste sweeter. The earthy memories of this particular beet salad make me digress…
…back to the education of oysters.
The young entrepreneur started digging littlenecks in Point Judith Pond when he was 12 years old. He grew up wild-harvesting shellfish, eel trapping, bull-raking clams and scuba diving for steamers. He now has a masters degree from URI in aquaculture and fisheries technology. Before Perry opened the very popular summer “hot spot” in 2010, he was a successful oyster farmer, and Matunuck Oysters can be found not just in RI but served here in NY, as well as CT and MA. Here he is shucking the fruits of his labor inside the restaurant with a bar built to showcase what the waters produce.
Perry graciously offered to take me out to see the oyster farm and the process in which they grow. We started off right from the waterfront patio of the restaurant by hopping onto the flat-bed pontoon boat that carries the “sizer”.
After a 2-3 year growth cycle, the oysters are harvested and then sent through this rotating drum, with varying hole-width cages, to sort them by size. It is interesting to note that different states have different size requirements for the mollusks so they are not over harvested and the limitations must be followed for the sale of live oysters.
Within minutes of leaving the restaurant we pulled up to the farm dock. Oysters are cultivated to the size of “spat,” the point at which they attach themselves to a substrate. The loose spat is allowed to mature further to form “seed” oysters with small shells as seen below.
They are then put in mesh bags to grow. Oysters cultivated in this manner are then harvested by lifting the bags to the surface and removing the mature oysters. It takes approximately 3 years for an oyster to mature enough for human consumption, depending on conditions, including the weather.
The bags are “planted” in rows like a traditional farmer would plant crops. The clam beds are on the outer perimeter of the 7 acre leased waters. (The succulent clams are pictured below as my choice for dinner).
The mesh bags are closed by small PVC pipes with slits to slide the tops of the bags into in order to keep out predators – the number one being the starfish. The 10,000 or so bags are checked on a rotating basis as tiny starfish can fit through the mesh holes when young and will consume the oysters while they grow to adulthood rendering it impossible for them to get out of the mesh, unless they are removed “by hand” before they eat the delicious mollusks.
The farmer uses a small floatation to carry the precious cargo to the floating dock for inspection. This is a shallow oyster farm where the waters are only waist high making it somewhat easier to pull bags for inspection.
Education is key for this farmer and he is happy to share his craft and knowledge. Here mature oysters are being readied for market. The white PVC ring in the background is used to measure 3 inches across the oyster shell which is the requirement for sale in Massachusetts.
My delicious dinner (ordered on two of my five visits) was full of fresh briny flavor from the local waters, as the clams were just harvested that day!
If you should find yourself close to RI it is a worthy diversion. Perry’s concept for Matunuck Oyster Bar is “simple food, fairly priced, fresh products, and making sure everybody leaves happy.”
Thank you for the food education.
Care to get tips first hand? Check out the current offerings at WCC Continuing Ed, Taste of Westchester. Classes are only $15+ a sampling fee. Sign up with a friend for one demonstration or a few by contacting WCC by phone at 606-6830×1.
The new Summer mini-semester has just begun! Join us at several of Westchester’s most exciting restaurants for a culinary adventure that will tantalize your taste buds. Each chef will offer a private cooking demonstration, followed by a tasting of the prepared items.
There is still time to sign up for some great classes:
Butterfield 8 American Gastro Pub, White Plains ~ www.Butterfield8whiteplains.com
One of several restaurants owned and operated by the dynamic duo of Ralph Batistta and John Gazzola, this spot is where business professional meets social scene in this contemporary American gastro pub. Surrounded by warm wood-paneled walls and leather booths, this bi-level restaurant offers a unique dining experience. Chef Matt Safarowic (formerly from The Cookery) will teach us the techniques used in his winning dishes. Our lesson begins with creole shrimp and grits (rock shrimp, coarse ground grits, and smoked tasso). The makings of French quarter jambalaya (jumbo shrimp, roasted chicken, andouille sausage, creole rice, and beans) is next on the menu. The chef will share his secrets for a scrumptious PB&J bread pudding: brioche, chunky peanut butter, and strawberry jelly.
Mon., July 29, 5:30-7:30 pm, $15 (+ $20 sampling fee, payable to instructor). #6009
The Cupcake Kitchen and Luncheonette, Irvington ~ Facebook and www.irvingtoncupcakekitchen.com
HANDS ON: Let them eat cupcakes! This adorable breakfast and lunch spot is also known for the prettiest and most delicious cupcakes in town along with custom fondant cakes for every occasion. Located on historic Main Street in Irvington, owner Jennifer O’Connell will give a hands-on instructional demonstration on decorating patriotic cupcakes in a summertime theme. This will be an interactive class using decorating tips from a pro and the outcome will astonish you. You will use pastry bags outfitted with all the tools needed to create six fabulously decorated cupcakes to bring home in a gift box. You can translate the techniques to upcoming holiday or family functions. The luncheonette only uses fresh ingredients and will tell you how to make their fabulous butter cream icing. You will get to sample a cupcake along with the shop’s hot or iced coffee and tea. Come out and play with us!
Thurs., Aug. 1, 4:30-6:30 pm, $15 (+ $21 sampling fee, payable to instructor). #6010
AJ’s Burgers, New Rochelle ~ www.AJsburgers.com, Follow them on Facebook.
Chef Alan, aka AJ, is a graduate of our college and the former owner of the Original Wedge Inn. The sliders are still cooked on a flat grill with grilled onions like the original White Manna from the 1964 World’s Fair. Burgers are not the only focus at AJ’s, as they are known for the best thin crust pizza in Westchester. One of their special dishes just happens to be Mariano Rivera’s favorite, lobster and shrimp positano. Our demonstration will be a lesson on delicious hot tomato and ricotta cheese bread and spinach salad topped with hot bacon dressing, followed by shrimp francesse with grilled portobello mushrooms and red roasted peppers. He will create a seasonal dessert of strawberry shortcake. Come join us for a terrific demonstration and a delicious meal as AJ’s always promises to leave you satisfied but wanting more!
Tues., Aug. 6, 5:30-7:30 pm, $15 (+ $21 sampling fee, payable to instructor). #6011
Roasted Peppers, Mamaroneck ~ www.roastedpeppersny.com
This American bistro with strong Latin influences is the collaboration of Mexican born brothers Juan and Roberto Lepe. They have been chefs in Westchester for over twenty years. The culinary experiences from their past have combined with their expertise and creativity to flourish into Roasted Peppers, their first restaurant venture. Chef Juan along with Chef Darrell Belcher, a 1987 CIA graduate, will show us their techniques. We will start with their signature dish, a stuffed roasted picadillo pepper, followed by a lesson on chipotle-apricot glazed pork chops, served with summer squash and couscous with cranberries. We will end with a jalapeño brownie served with coconut ice cream for a very different dessert.
NEW DATE-Tues., Aug. 13, 5:30-7:30 pm, $15 (+ $25 sampling fee, payable to instructor). #6012
Don Coqui, New Rochelle ~ www.doncoqui.com
HANDS ON: Don Coqui is the latest and most exciting authentic Puerto Rican dining experience. The vast first floor is a gourmand’s dream and is the perfect place for our class. This restaurant features an interactive professional demonstration kitchen with all the latest cooking gadgets. Chef Jack D’Angelo will prepare our meal for the evening: we’ll start with mixed green salad with queso blanco sofrito vinaigrette, then a lesson on seafood paella with clams, mussels, shrimp, and chorizo. Sangria will be the beverage lesson for the evening, made with fresh fruit. To end our evening on a sweet note, we will make coconut flan with a deep caramel glaze and shaved toasted coconut.
Tues., Aug. 20, 6:00-8:00 pm, $15 (+ $25 sampling fee, payable to instructor). #6013
Fees include non-alcoholic beverages. New menu items are explored each semester. Menu substitutions may occur when necessary. Demonstrations will begin at the times designated. Sampling fees are payable in CASH only.
Come join in the fun and learn a thing or two!
If you are a chef or proprietor of a restaurant, and are interested in participating in this program please contact the college and leave your contact information. 606-6830×1