When the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) first approached Chefs Brigade restaurant partner, Clesi’s Seafood Restaurant & Catering, about joining its Oyster Shell Recycling Program, James Clesi jumped at the opportunity.
“It just made sense,” says Clesi, who owns the restaurant and catering business with his siblings: Carlo Clesi and Sonya Dicarlo. “We go through so many oysters and the shells could be returned to the water. Why wouldn’t we want to recycle oyster shells?”
Chefs Brigade started sponsoring member restaurants in May 2021, and to date, our partner restaurants have recycled 233,932 pounds or 115.2 tons of oyster shells.
Clesi founded the local eatery as a way to keep the party going. For years, he had been throwing large events–seafood boils, house parties with DJs and bars, and tailgates–at his own expense until, as he puts it, “it finally dawned on me that I should get paid for this.”
For Clesi, keeping the party going also means preserving and restoring the Gulf coast, because that’s where the main attraction, seafood, comes from. New Orleans restaurants that participate in CRCL’s oyster shell program collect discarded shells, which are then picked up from the restaurant 2-3 times per week, and eventually used to rebuild and restore oyster reefs.
While it’s an ongoing celebration at Clesi’s, food safety remains a top priority. Clesi’s Master Boiler Jarvis Smith, who oversees the restaurant’s seafood, says that all raw oysters are stored in a cooler and even shucked in the cooler. Keeping with the tradition, the shuckers serve the oysters to guests. When the diners are finished and the table cleared, the oyster shells are separated.
“It’s really not a big deal for the servers,” says Smith. “They dump the shells into the container and that’s it. Sometimes, we have a dishwasher to separate the shells. We all know it’s a good thing.”
Clesi and Smith have both been on the Chefs Brigade’s Chefs on Boats tour, which is a unique and immersive educational experience where chefs and foodservice workers are exposed to the Louisiana and the Gulf Coast fisheries. It was Smith’s first boat trip, which included a visit to a restored oyster reef, and it solidified how recycling oyster shells can aid in coastal restoration.
“It was amazing to be on the tour and seeing the shells returned to the water,” Smith says. “It’s like I’m having an impact on the planet.”