Devon chef Matt Buzzo puts Limosa Oysters centre stage
PUBLISHED: 15:03 16 September 2015 | UPDATED: 15:03 16 September 2015
Devon-grown oysters will be the stars of a seafood celebration at the Waterside Bistro in Totnes
A Celebration of Seafood Dinner is being held on Thursday, 22 October at the Waterside Bistro in Totnes with local oysters from the River Yealm taking centre stage.
The event was inspired by a visit Matt Buzzo, the restaurant’s chef owner, made to the river on a dreary and drizzly morning in early summer to accompany local oyster fishermen, Martyn Oates and Steve Allen in harvesting oysters from their eight metre barge.
Matt wanted to meet the duo, owners of the Brixton-based Limosa Oysters, to find out more about their shellfish business and see for himself the oyster beds and their harvesting.
Each year, Matt is keen to visit one of his local suppliers and meet the owners direct. As Limosa’s oysters are featured fairly regularly on Matt’s restaurant daily Fresh Fish Specials menu and Waterside is well known for its speciality seafood dishes, Limosa was an obvious choice. The chef also grew up in Newton Ferrers so has strong links with the river and its twin villages.
Matt explains: “When I was twelve, my family moved to Newton Ferrers and it was the most wonderful place to live – I loved it there! We always had boats and dinghies to mess about in and I was a keen member of the Yealm Yacht Club and as a youngster, sailed on Sunday mornings. Friends and I spent many happy times going up the river in boats and camping out for the night.
“The River Yealm with the two villages on either side is a magical place and I always love to go back. I have good friends who have boats on the river and I enjoy catching my own fish when I’m invited on board!
“I also started my career off at the Court House Hotel in the village and then the Ship Inn at Noss Mayo, before moving to London at 21 to further my classical training as a chef. I spent ten years working in top hotels and restaurants including Scotts of Mayfair and fish restaurant Livebait as head chef where we used to serve lots of oysters.”
It was hardly surprising then that Matt jumped at the chance to join Martyn and Steve on a morning of harvesting. Limosa farm Pacific Oysters for supply all year round, so the two can be found most days whatever the weather tending to their oyster beds. The bad weather Matt experienced gave him a real taste of what it’s like to cultivate oysters in all conditions!
Using three oyster beds, one at Frogmore Creek on the Kingsbridge and Salcombe Estuary and the main two beds lying between Steer Point & Thorn on the River Yealm, Limosa grows top quality oysters from seed which do well on account of the good balance between sea and fresh water, ideal for the growth of phytoplankton on which the oysters feed.
Limosa started in about 1996, “literally from seed”- oysters in this case - for the two men with a part time trial to see if the business was viable. Steve at the time was a dry stone- waller and Martyn a crab fisherman with his own boat. Commercial sales took off in 1999 and now, the company produces some 500,000 oysters or around 30 tonnes a year, all of which are sold to wholesalers who then sell on to customers all over the world.
Martyn explained: “There had been a long tradition of oyster farming on the Yealm, well over a hundred years, then in the 60s a young graduate zoologist from Cambridge started an oyster hatchery at Steer Point. We knew from his work that the Yealm was amongst the best estuaries in the UK for growing oysters so although there are many challenges as with most businesses we thought it was worth trying to resurrect the oyster production here.
“It’s satisfying to know that Limosa Oysters end up on menus in Devon as for example with Matt Buzzo’s Waterside Bistro, supplied by one of our wholesale customers, S & J Fisheries at Lee Mill. We’re pleased that locals and visitors to the South West get to taste our oysters. Some of our wholesalers export as far afield as Dubai and recently, there has been a growth in oysters being sold at big sporting events like Wimbledon and race meetings.”
Down on the river, mesh bags are used to grow the oysters and continual grading of size takes place during the winter months until the weather gets warmer around the end of March. Once they are at the preferred market size of 70-80gms within two to three years, the oysters are harvested, taken to a unit nearby and undergo 42 hours of being purified in water which has passed through a UV tube, to reduce any bacteria in the oyster’s gut. Quality is also assured by monthly river tests taken by Plymouth Port Health.
Matt Buzzo found the visit interesting and invaluable and the information he has learnt is now being passed on to both catering and service staff at the Waterside Bistro.
“Customers do ask about local sourcing and are impressed when our staff members are knowledgeable about the food they create or serve. I found the clarification from Martyn and Steve useful as to the differences between native and Pacific oysters, the latter as farmed by Limosa.
“I can understand why the cost of commercially farming native species is nowadays extremely high, the main reason being, the oysters are slow to mature and spawn differently affecting production and taste.
“I was told that the natives are fertilised inside the female’s shell, going creamy in colour and taste affected, whilst the Pacific Oysters fertilise out of the shell in the water, reaching maturity within a couple of years. I believe that there is little difference in taste and using Limosa oysters gives our customers quality and consistency all year round. In my experience, most people are unable to taste the difference and in areas where native oysters are produced, they are grown mostly for a niche, London market.”
The Waterside Bistro celebrates a decade in business this year for Matt and his French wife Delphine. The couple aim to offer an authentic French Bistro experience at the riverside heart of Totnes.
The restaurant creates simple, stylish and superb bistro cuisine with French inspired signature dishes.
Using and promoting fresh seasonal produce from local suppliers in Devon was a key factor in the Waterside Bistro being awarded “Best Bistro in Devon in the Food & Drink Devon Awards 2013 and GOLD Awards in the Taste of the West Awards 2013.
Matt likes to serve oysters natural as well as cooked at Waterside. “Personally, I love to eat oysters just as they are, or as the French serve them with red wine & shallot vinegar, but cooking them is wonderful too. Any sauce or style you may use for mussels, scallops, and other shellfish is great, and my customers often agree. One of my favourite recipes for oysters is to grill them with a chorizo & spring onion dressing, the smell of the smoky spicy sausage and roasting shells under the grill is amazing.”
Oyster farming is a truly sustainable way of food production without any artificial inputs more so than virtually any other type of farmed seafood, save for other filter feeding shellfish like mussels which are equally sustainable.
Limosa Oysters often feature on the Waterside Bistro’s Daily Fresh Fish Specials. So, inspired by the visit and the sustainability aspect which is in line with Waterside’s own ethos and values, the Celebration of Seafood Dinner being held on Thursday, 22 October promotes the best of local fish with Limosa Oysters centre stage. The meal will be complemented by excellent wines chosen by Nigel Pound of Totnes Wine Company who will introduce each wine being tasted.
The Celebration of Seafood Dinner is a fitting tribute to those unsung heroes such as Martyn and Steve at Limosa who quietly go about their seafood business in producing sought after, first class seafood products in Devon for the regional, national and international hospitality markets.
Find out more on the Waterside Bistro website.