After 15 years working as a chef in fine dining kitchens around New Orleans, Justin LeBlanc opened Bevi Seafood Co. (4701 Airline Drive, Metairie, 504-885-5003; www.beviseafoodco.com), a combined seafood market and restaurant. He spoke with Gambit about his new venture and crawfish season.
Why did you start your own seafood business?
For the past 15 years, I've been a chef, and I was looking for the next step in my career. I took a look at what I really love and what I care about — I'm a huge whole seafood sandwich fan, and while some of the markets out here were doing a pretty good job, I thought they could be doing so much better. It all started with that idea. All the new restaurants around seem to be doing something with a twist: burgers with a twist, Mexican with a twist and so on. But I didn't want the twist. I just wanted to do something really well as it is.
The idea of being a small casual restaurant is just as important to us as being a seafood market. Today, we filled 50 sacks of oysters and 30 gallons of oysters. The same shrimp out of the ice chest is the same shrimp that goes into your sandwich. In today's world, where everyone talks about farm-to-table, we serve food here that never left a 30-mile radius. That's truly local food. To be able to take it from the boat to the ice chest to the pan to the plate, that's really cool and special. We sell crabmeat here, and that's the same crab that goes into our soup.
How do crawfish fit into your seafood market?
My grandparents taught me to boil crawfish when I was a kid. We did it every weekend in season. Your food traditions are always what you'll remember your family for. It's as much about the family experience as it is about the crawfish. I'm raising my kids the same way, boiling crawfish every weekend. It's an excuse to get together and spend time with one another, something that's so unique and integral to life in Louisiana.
We're just coming into our first crawfish season today. We got our first batch of Spillway crawfish, so it's an early season. We have a sorting conveyor belt with hoses that lets us go through every single sack, take out all the dirt and twigs — and remove the dead ones. There's an extensive effort to make sure the crawfish we put out are healthy and clean. We spend so many man-hours making sure that there are no dead ones in the sack, because they'll make your boiling water taste funky. Not everyone does that, but it's really important to us.
How is crawfish season looking this year?
It's been a slow start to the ponds — last year was really amazing for pond crawfish — but getting Spillway crawfish this early is a really good sign. We've had a lot of rain, which is always good. I'm going to make a point to offer Belle River crawfish when they come into season. They produce a great product because they have faster-moving water that allows for the crawfish to be cleaner, and there's a constant flow of nutrients coming through the water as well. A lot of people swear by Belle River crawfish, especially in the old days, but not as much any more. Back in the day, you hit the holy grail if you got some Belle River crawfish. Now, the ponds are a huge business and they dominate the market, and you don't see those kinds of crawfish as often anymore. But I think they're fantastic, and I want to make sure people get a taste of them as soon as they're available. It's such a simple pleasure. A big draft beer in a frozen mug and boiled seafood, what could be better than that?