Pacific Northwest Oysters with a Food Legend

Washington State Oysters: Totten Inlet Virginica, Totten Inlet Pacific, Kumamoto and Olympia Oysters


When I think of the briny goodness of Pacific Northwest Oysters, my mouth starts to water.  Actually, I pretty much feel that way about any oyster from anywhere. Last month, I had the honor of going on an oyster forage with food legend Jon Rowley. In 2008, Saveur Magazine named Northwest native Rowley one of the 100 best things in food.  They called him the “Disciple of Flavor,” for his constant pursuit of the best foods at their peak flavor, a true tastemaker. He’s championed once-obscure foods like Alaska Copper River Salmon and Washington State’s Olympia Oysters and brought them into the public consciousness. He has cooked for Julia Child, (she called him the fish missionary), worked with Ruth Reichel, and was featured in Ruth’s show, “Diary of a Foodie.” He has influenced and educated some of the most sophisticated palettes in the world.  His résumé reads like a Who’s Who in Food. And, in fact, he was actually named a Who’s Who in Food when he was inducted into the James Beard Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America in 1987.


Chapman Cove in South Puget Sound


On the appointed day, Jon and I started our oyster forage at 5 am. We headed south to Chapman Cove in South Puget Sound on Taylor Shellfish oyster beds, one of the many spots from which Jon likes to get oysters. We met up with a crew from Taylor Shellfish and checked some of the oldest oyster beds in the area dating back to 1890’s. We scouted around that locale for a while until just before noon, when we landed at Xinh’s, a clam and oyster house located in the small town of Shelton, WA. Xinh’s is run by a one-of-a-kind Vietnamese chef named Xinh. Her food was incredible, the combinations of flavors inspired by her own food traditions were wonderful. Trust me -go there. Her marinated mussels in tahini sauce were like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. Then she brought out baked oysters topped with bacon and hoisin sauce. The struggle to photograph those and not devour them first was fierce. The entire day with Rowley was like this, tasting a sampling of fresh foods and experiencing them at their peak moment of flavor. It was a journey of discovery, a pursuit of something both pure and raw. We picked blackberries from the side of the road and ate them on the spot. On our hike out to one of the bays, Jon found beach asparagus, or sea beans, growing wild – and he picked some so I could try it. For a mid-day snack, he had peaches from California’s Frog Hollow Farm flown in the day before at peak ripeness – perfect for a morning blood sugar boost. I could go on and on about my day with Jon. Like climbing to the top of a mountain and discovering an unexpected breathtaking view, it was better than I anticipated, with more color, and texture and light then I could have ever imagined.  That’s Jon – one day with him and my life even tasted better.


Kumamoto oyster bed, most productive Kumamoto bed in the world

Jon picking beach asparagus

Taylor Shellfish in Shelton, Washington

Baked oysters topped with bacon and hoisin sauce

Marinated mussels in Xinh’s special tahini sauce

Jon Rowley

Chef Xinh Dwelley

Xinh’s famous oyster stew

Peaches from California’s Frog Hollow Farm


Filed under Pacific Northwest, Restaurants, Seafood, travel

18 Responses to Pacific Northwest Oysters with a Food Legend

  1. Atf_guy

    Awesome pics Penny. :) )) We miss you from your visit to seattle! come back soon. :)

  2. i watched a whole “Gourmet” show on him a few months ago and I fell in love. What n opportunity to have met him penny. you have the best job in the world! these are some breathtaking photos.

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  4. you do, in fact, have the best job in the world. what a treat to be able to share that day with him….and my goodness…those overhead shots of those oysters. damn. i don’t even *like* oysters.

    - t*

  5. When Jon told me to ask you if you had experienced oysters in Seattle and to introduce him to you at our potluck, I knew a lovely series of events would unfold from that introduction. So happy and honored to have made the connection. Beautiful photos, Penny. xo

  6. Penny – I loved the post and the images… I haven’t had that many oysters in my life, but maybe I should…

    - Question: What in the world is the lady in image #3 from the bottom up preparing? Is that an oyster??????? I couldn’t be, right?

  7. Ray, pretty sure that’s a geoduck.

  8. As I stare at these pictures, their and the oyster’s simplicity amazes and captivates me. Fresh, baked, marinated, local food and people, and you capture it like no other! A few oyster loving friends will appreciate them too. I can’t help hearing your voice describing picture taking (was at IFBC and Blogher Food). Thanks for making my morning :)

  9. Janet in Maine

    Mouth is seriously watering. I will have to go and find some oysters.

  10. I am blown away by the fact that I know Jon, have shot events that he’s worked at, and have eaten his food, and I never knew HALF of this. He is a truly humble man, and doesn’t flaunt his credentials, that’s for sure!

    I particularly like the shot of the beach, with all of the guys digging. The lighting there is superb! What a wonderful (and truly “Pacific Northwest”) adventure you had.

    I must make Xinh’s place in Shelton a priority! To say those photos made me salivate is quite an understatement!

    Thanks for gracing us with your presence in the Pac NW, Penny!

  11. I very nearly licked the screen. Oysters are a rare delight for me, and these photographs are superb.

  12. I’m just so enchanted by your photos. I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet at BlogHer Food, but everyone speaks so highly of you and your work, and I can see why.

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  14. That mussels looks really yummy! I love seafood this blog post made me hungry! BTW the pictures look really great!


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  16. I LOVE these photos! I know how you what you mean when you say that it’s a struggle to photograph the food. Sometimes I completely forget to do my job, as my mind is only focused on “must. eat. now.” What was your favorite? I’d love to visit Taylor one day… how was the weather when you went?

  17. jon is a good friend of mine and it looks like he gave you the royal tour – how wonderful! i just discovered your blog through reading aran’s recent post, and your comment there. thank you for helping make the world a smaller place! here’s to many wonderful meals shared with those we cherish in 2011. :)