Bar Harbor Catering Company staff embarked on an oyster shucking adventure last night with a class at Bar Harbor Oyster Company (BHOC) where Mount Desert Island (MDI) natives and BHOC founders, Joanna and Jesse Fogg, put on a quite a show, from start to finish.
As we approached the side yard where the class was taking place, a fire crackled in the outdoor chimenea, offering a warm welcome, but also, warding off the ever persistent black flies. Bosun, a massive Greater Swiss Mountain dog, boomed hellos as he proudly showed off a bone he was carrying around like a trophy, stopping every so often for a neck or head scratch. We milled about, introducing ourselves to those we didn't know, and then settled in at tables set up along the deck, anxiously awaiting the moment when we'd dig into some oysters.
For me, this class was a big deal. And, not because I hadn't shucked oysters since my days working on the Olde Port Mariner Fleet in Portland, Maine. No, it was because I hadn't eaten an oyster in more than 20 years and tonight I was going to try to let go of the judgment that I've held onto for so long of these little mollusks. Not only would I shuck, but I would also eat an oyster. And, maybe more than one.
BHOC specializes in Bar Harbor Blondes, which spend three years growing on their 22-acre farm at the mouth of Mt Desert Narrows. This farm is very close to one of MDI's biggest saltwater marshes and the cocktail of warm, cold, fresh, and salt water creates the perfect conditions for abundant phytoplankton to thrive, one of the Blondes' favorite things to snack on.
You might be thinking, "What does an oyster farm look like?" For BHOC, their farm consists of moored floating cages that are similar to a lobster trap in construction. Water at the surface is warmer, and the plankton more plentiful, which allows the oysters to filter feed and grow. To aid in the growth process, Joanna and Jesse regularly flip the cages to expose the oysters to the sun and a bit of a drying out phase. This ensures that the shells are bleached, and doesn't, as I thought, mean the oysters are dying a slow death. Apparently, oysters are very resilient, and this drying process doesn't negatively affect them. More importantly, though, this process ensures that all the gear and the oysters are clean from bio-fouling. After 24 hours, the cages are returned to the water and back to their feeding positions.
When winter really sinks its teeth in at the end of December, BHOC drops all the oysters and their cages to the ocean floor. The cold water has an important job in the growth of the oyster - it prevents the shell from growing but it continues to develop and enhance the flavor and texture of the oysters.
The cold weather is also important when it comes to shucking. Not only do the winter months help produce a lovely, well-manicured oyster, but it also makes the shell exceptionally strong, which in turn, makes it easy to shuck. And, what's hidden inside is something that, up until yesterday, I always thought was rather appalling. In reality, it's the perfect morsel of delicious, briny, salty meat. And, when you add a couple of additional accents, like mignonette sauce or lemon or garlic, you won't be able to stop yourself. No, seriously. I ate at least 20 of them, and I feel absolutely no shame.
I'm by no means an expert shucker (yet), but I think I did well, as did the rest of the BHCC staff. We had a fun night, met some new friends, and ate A LOT of oysters. My favorite: when Joanna put the oysters on the grill with a little manchego cheese and an herb pesto.
The best part? They sell their oysters out of their garage - by reservation or on an honor system. And, you'll definitely be on your honor if you have Bosun reminding you that there's someone watching.
Heather Anderson is our new Creative Director & Event Planner. She loves Maine, writing, photography, a good outdoor party, and now, oysters.
We're so excited to announce that we're adding to the local downeast catering scene with our devotion to both food and event planning. BHCC owner and executive chef Mandy Fountaine believed there to be a unique opportunity in the industry when she noticed caterers in Maine were offering great food, but not many planning packages to complement their service. Mandy responded with a more comprehensive experience, offering custom menus and varied planning services, creating a truly personalized event for clients. And to further this mission, we're happy to announce the hiring of our new Creative Director and Event Planner, Heather Anderson!
“It’s my personal belief, and the belief of the entire BHCC team, that event guests deserve an all-inclusive experience, with attention to every detail,” said Fountaine. “When a client can get their food, planning, and logistics in one go, it minimizes the ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ feeling. Having food and planning under one roof creates a seamless process for our clients and we’re excited to bring the same attention and quality to the planning as we do to food and service."
Heather Anderson, an experienced event planner and marketing professional, joined the Bar Harbor Catering Company team on April 9 as the Creative Director and Event Planner. Previously the Director of Advancement at the Abbe Museum, Anderson brings 18 years of proven knowledge of creative strategy, vision, communication, and management with an emphasis on event planning, marketing, and digital media.
To commemorate the new expansion, we worked with Porcupine Design to unveil a new brand that better matches our new business strategy, which includes new logos, exterior signage, packaging, and web graphics. Additional projects will get underway over the course of the next 12 to 18 months.
Given our goal of providing exceptional food and service, we have received rave reviews and praise in our nine years, with an extensive client portfolio that not only includes many local faces, but several major corporations, and social event clients from across the country. Additionally, we have been recognized with several accolades, including most recently the 2017 Rising Star Award from the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
"Over the past three years years, BHCC has grown exponentially, and it’s only natural for us to further develop our service offerings as well,” said General Manager Jennifer Wright. “With our new expansion, re-brand, and bringing Heather on board, there’s no telling where this exciting and fun business is headed."
We're a little over due for our "official" end of season announcement, but this year was a doozy by all accounts and we took a few moments to catch our breath! While our offices are open all winter for planning and projects, our event season has officially come to a close!
First of all, we owe an enormous thank you to all of our amazing clients, staff and vendor partners who helped make 2017 the most memorable year ever at BHCC!
We started the year with a new home, thanks in no small part to our patient and super talented friends at J. Johnson Builder. We bought a "fixer upper" for sure, but in no time, (that seemed like eons), the former one room convenience store was turned from drab to fab!
With offices, a tasting room and an enormous, fully renovated kitchen, our new space allowed us to ramp up our production, host tastings and other events in our own space, and even host BHCC employee yoga classes, which were much needed for stress relief in the midst of an insanely busy season.
With a lot more elbow room to work and with a running start, we dove head first into the most amazing weddings, non-profit galas, fundraisers, family meals and just about every other event you could imagine.
But perhaps our proudest moment, of which there are many, was receiving the Rising Star Award Business of the Year from our friends, peers and community at the the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce's annual awards dinner. In truth, we weren't able to receive our award in person, as our entire team was capping off our season by successfully producing the largest event in our companies history - a 700 person gala fit for royalty!
In looking back on 2017, this past year was a huge milestone for BHCC. We oftentimes found ourselves reflecting on the early years of the company; laughing at our hijinks as much as at our naive mistakes and recalling fondly the details of all the wonderful events that we produced. More than anything though, our reflections leave us humbled by the work and dedication of our staff. With many "lifers" and new faces returning year after year, we can't help but feel like one big kooky family, who genuinely love seeing and working together doing what we do, and can't wait to get started on 2018's adventures with all of them!