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Updated: April 15, 2024

Maine scallop ambassadors journey to France for culinary exchange

circle of scallops on grill Courtesy / Togue Brawn Whole scallops, farmed by Andrew Peters of Vertical Bay, were prepared on a grill with compound butter.

Two months ago, members of Maine’s scallop industry served up their catch, both wild and farmed, in New York City at a French culinary forum hosting scores of professional chefs.  

This week, Maine’s ambassadors for the tasty shellfish are in France to explore techniques there for handling and preparing scallops.

The goal of the group — chefs, seafood professionals, writers, economic development specialists and educators — is to use what they learn to support scallop farming and commercial fishing sectors in Maine.

“Our group’s trip to learn about the French scallop industry will help inspire and inform our efforts to get chefs thinking about using more of the scallop, how to tell the story of scallop sustainability through the lens of both environmental and economic perspectives, and how to better market Maine scallops as a world-class product,” said Rob Dumas, the University of Maine’s food science innovation coordinator and manager of the Dr. Matthew Highlands Pilot Plant.

person in white coat, ballcap and beard
Courtesy / University of Maine
Rob Dumas

The trip, scheduled for April 14-22, was made possible by a grant from the NOAA National Sea Grant Office to the Maine Sea Grant College Program. 

The group’s itinerary includes Paris, Normandy and Brittany, wrapping up with a scallop festival in Paimpol this weekend. The expedition will be followed by educational programming led by Dumas to share what the group learned from its travels with other chefs and culinary professionals. 

Lessons for Maine

What lessons might be imported back to Maine?

“In general, in my experience with French cooking and my understanding of the French relationship with scallops, there’s a longer history there and a there’s a deeper affection for scallops as food in France,” Dumas told Mainebiz. “There’s even a brotherhood of people who get together to eat scallops.”

Because of that cultural connection and historical significance, France stood out to the group as a prime spot for learning more about scallops, he said.

An additional attraction to France is consumer similarities. 

“A lot of our own cuisine has been shaped by French and European influences, so we thought there would be easy pathway forward for American consumers to adopt new techniques,” he said.

The French tend to use the whole scallop, while U.S. cuisine has focused on the animal’s adductor muscle, he noted. There could be culinary value to U.S. cooks in learning how to employ the whole animal, he said.

The adductor muscle is the marshmallow-shaped meat that allows the scallop to open and close its shell. Other edible parts include the roe, which is sometime called coral.

“I’m hoping that France can give us inspiration and lessons that we can bring back and communicate to chefs and food service workers,” he said.

Who is involved

Traveling with Dumas are:

  • Dana Morse, senior extension program manager and aquaculture lead at Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension based at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole;
  • Togue Brawn, owner and founder of Downeast Dayboat, a distributor of wild and farmed scallops headquartered in Bath with a processing facility in Portland;
  • Hugh Cowperthwaite, senior program director of fisheries and aquaculture for Coastal Enterprises Inc.;
  • Jean-Louis Gerin (host and guide), a James Beard Award-winning chef and a dual citizen of the U.S. and France;
  • Sam Hayward, a James Beard Award-winning chef and co-owner of Fore Street Restaurant in Portland;
  • Rowan Jacobsen, author of “A Geography of Oysters”;
  • Andrew Peters, owner of Belfast scallop farm Vertical Bay Maine;
  • Lisa Scali, co-owner of Ocean’s Balance, a Biddeford maker of seaweed products; and
  • Cherie Scott, owner and founder of Mumbai to Maine LLC and maker of award-winning gourmet regional Indian simmer sauces. 

“The quality of dayboat scallops from Maine is finally getting the long overdue recognition it deserves,” said Brawn. “Scallops from different areas have different flavors (merroirs) and Maine is the only state in the country offering whole cultivated scallops.”

Brawn has previously said that since Maine’s small-boat scallop fleet lands scallops the same day they’re harvested, their freshness and flavor are preserved.

Less well known to chefs and consumers are products from the farm sector: whole scallops, roe-on and dishes made with other parts of the scallop beyond the adductor muscle, according to a news release.

The nascent farm sector is growing.  According to Maine Department of Marine Resources’ landings data, Maine farmed scallop production was valued at $81,629 in 2021, $103,220 in 2022 and $584,691 in 2023. 

“Growers have really gotten their feet under them, and it shows in their production practices and the landings themselves,” said Morse.

With the farm sector increasing production, the opportunity and challenge is to introduce culinary opportunities to chefs, according to the release. Americans eat most of their seafood in restaurants, so chefs are considered to be potential ambassadors of new scallop products.

The group will meet with chefs, fishermen, retailers, restaurateurs and scientists. Gerin helped the group establish connections in France and is serving as the host and guide.

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