Chefs on Boats® is a first-of-its-kind program that takes New Orleans chefs, line cooks, FOH managers and culinary students on an expedition into the Louisiana marsh with coastal scientists and fisheries experts for first-hand experience and education on the perils facing the Louisiana coast and seafood industry.
In fact, it is one of our defining characteristics as a people.
But what does it mean when the majority of line cooks and chefs preparing the marsh’s bounty, have never been in the marsh? What does it mean if our restaurant’s culinary ambassadors have only a vague idea of the endangered local fisheries as they describe a seafood dish to the thousands and thousands of tourists coming through their doors each year?
Chefs on Boats seeks to educate our culinary ambassadors and bring them together with the men and women on the frontlines of the imperiled Louisiana Seafood Industry. This program provides a real-world platform for chefs, culinary students, scientists and Louisiana fishermen and women to interact and learn from each other on how the restaurant industry intersects with water quality, coastal restoration and the seafood industry.
This is an opportunity to connect two fields that rarely have the chance to collaborate. To make an impact with individuals, especially culinary students, who may currently or one day be in a position to make responsible decisions regarding waste, chemicals and recyclable materials within restaurants, and to help educate our city’s culinary ambassadors on Louisiana’s waterways and fisheries.
In order to protect the metro area from flooding, we have long built necessary levees, flood gates and floodwalls. These barriers have only grown more massive and prolific in the last few decades and have had the unfortunate effect of severing the connection to the water for many New Orleanians. The vast majority of people here – including those working in our beloved restaurant industry – do not have access to boats, so this once common bond to the imperiled beauty and bounty of our waterways, bayous and marsh is vanishing.
The first half of the 5-hour expedition takes our culinary ambassadors out exploring the productive fisheries of the rapidly eroding saltwater marsh.
Launching from the 5th largest seafood port in the United States (by tonnage), the waters outside of Empire, Louisiana are home to generations of oyster and shrimp fishers and are in the “goldilocks” zone for oyster production. Here evidence abounds on the rapid erosion of Louisiana’s coastal marsh, as well as barrier islands recently restored using oil spill penalty funding. The expedition rafts up with oyster and shrimp boats plying the waters and allows our chefs to learn from and engage directly with these multi-generational fishers. En route to the Mississippi River, the chefs will have an opportunity to tong for oysters for their lunch using old school methods.
Experience the power of the Mississippi River to build virgin land, fertile marsh and habitats, while discussing the future of the Louisiana seafood platter.
Passing into the main channel of the Mississippi River through the historic Empire navigation locks first constructed in 1903 by M.F. Doullut to speed oyster shipments to New Orleans, the expedition traverses the wild waterway peppered with oil storage facilities until entering a levee crevasse known as Avulsion Pass. From here, our culinary ambassadors will experience and witness first hand the power of the Mississippi River to build new land, habitat and marsh and the consequences to saltwater fishing grounds. There are very complex issues at stake for the future of hurricane protection and the seafood industry, and the discussion onboard will center on paths forward.
Chefs on Boats is an invaluable experience, especially as a member of the hospitality community. The experience allowed me to come face to face with collective challenges we face as Louisiana restaurants, fisherman, shrimpers, and oystermen. Chefs on Boats is an important first step in informing all stakeholders on how to move Louisiana's rich seafood heritage forward in a rapidly changing world.
Chefs on Boats is an amazing opportunity for chefs and culinary professionals to experience the coast and the Louisiana seafood industry first hand.
I grew up on the West Bank of the river in southeast Louisiana and for most of my life it's been doom and gloom concerning coastal land loss. Seeing so much new land and wildlife habitat being created first-hand has given me the first sense of hope I've ever had for the region's future.
My experience out on the water with the oystermen helped me realize how vitally important sustainable fisheries are to the New Orleans restaurant industry.
Meeting our producers, our fishers, featuring the bounty they harvest from our local region, and bringing their stories and the narrative of our historic foodways to our guests is the most important thing I can do as a chef. It's an opportunity to re-establish that visceral and even spiritual connection to our food.
The day we spent on the water with Chefs on Boats really opened my eyes to how rapidly the landscape is changing and how immensely those changes are affecting the oyster and shrimping industries.
Realizing education is the single most effective tool in keeping the Mississippi River Delta functioning, Captain Richie Blink formally incorporated Delta Discovery Tours in 2015. Since then, thousands of people from all parts of the globe have visited the delta with him on his converted shrimp boat that he rebuilt from the keel to the mast.
Questions about these excursions, this site or becoming a sponsor?
We are currently running expeditions every Tuesday morning at 9am out of Empire Louisiana reservations are required. Many of the most common questions can be answered on our FAQ Page. If you have any other questions about our tours or sponsorships, or would like to report an issue with our website, please use the contact form. We do our best to respond within 24 hours.