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February 6, 2024

C'est si bon! Mainers serve up scallops, fishery expertise to French chefs in NYC

2 people with trays full of scallops on shells Courtesy / Dana Morse Togue Brawn and Kelly Schmidt Tinkler of Downeast Dayboat prepare scallops provided by four Maine fishermen.

Maine sea scallops, both wild and farmed, were featured guests this past Saturday at a gathering of about 120 professional chefs in New York City.

The occasion was a meeting of the Academie Culinaire de France, held at the Institute for Culinary Education, which drew chefs from France, Canada and the U.S.

“One of the younger chefs remarked, ‘You know, looking around the room, there has to be at least 50 Michelin stars in this crowd,’” Dana Morse posted on his Facebook page. “Yikes. And really felt like we nailed it!”

Morse is the aquaculture lead for Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension, based at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole.

He was joined by Togue Brawn and Kelly Schmidt Tinkler of Downeast Dayboat, a distributor of wild and farmed scallops headquartered in Bath with a processing facility in Portland; Struan Coleman of Belfast scallop farm Vertical Bay Maine; and Hugh Cowperthwaite, a senior program director for fisheries and aquaculture with Coastal Enterprises Inc.

The Académie de Cuisine is a culinary arts organization founded in France in 1879.

The Maine group was invited to Saturday’s meeting of the North American chapter. The connection came about through Robert Dumas, food science innovation coordinator and facility manager at the University of Maine, who introduced Brawn, Morse and Cowperthwaite to Jean-Louis Gerin, a private chef who lives in Connecticut, according to his Facebook page. 

person speaking into mic in galley
Courtesy / Dana Morse
Struan Coleman of Vertical Bay Maine describes the process of scallop farming in Maine and at Vertical Bay.

They all got talking about scallops and Gerin pitched the idea of inviting the Maine group to the convention to Sebastien Baud, president of the academie’s U.S. and Canada delegation and chef de cuisine at the Consulate General of France in New York.

“We went down as a group to highlight the differences and quality of Maine scallops,” said Morse. “We talked about both the wild fishery and the culture sectors because they both produce such a fine product.”

Brawn led off the presentation with scallops harvested from four areas off Maine’s coast, in order to highlight the different flavors, or merroir, depending on where they grow.

“Ninety-five percent of U.S. sea scallops come from big trip boats that fish offshore for a week or more,” she said. The landed product, she said, is no longer fresh from the sea and its flavor is diluted from melting ice.

people in galley with shellfish and pans
Courtesy / Dana Morse
Chef Gerin prepares a whole scallop dish sautéed in wine and butter. Brawn is at the mic.

In Maine, smaller boats bring the product back the same day, preserving the freshness and flavor, she said.

“We’ve been keeping Maine scallops secret for too long,” she said. “I just want to show the world that Maine scallops are the best in the world, and that they come in different varietals.”

Coleman followed up with a presentation of raw farmed scallops sprinkled with a bit of sea salt. Together with Morse, discussions included regional flavor differences, biology and sustainability. Gerin prepared whole scallops with wine and butter, sautéed and steamed in the shell. 

“A lot of chefs, I think, don’t know that whole, live sea scallops are virtually unique to Maine,” said Morse.

The 45-mintue presentation drew quite a few questions and some contacts with other chefs, he said.

Presentations from others during the day included puff pastry, avocados and cheese.

“We were stunningly fortunate to be included,” said Morse.

people sitting and person in blue shirt talking into mic
Courtesy / Dana Morse
Dana Morse discusses habitat, biology and water quality.

He added, “I think the chefs came away with an appreciation of the quality, the characteristics and the stories behind Maine scallops.”

Brawn, Morse and Cowperthwaite are planning a trip to France in April as part of a culinary exchange, to learn more about how French chefs prepare whole scallops with the roe intact, as opposed to the U.S. practice of eating just the adductor muscle. 

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February 6, 2024

The chefs LOVED Maine scallops, OF COURSE :)

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