by Scott Gold
Serious bivalve fanatics who are having trouble waiting until this summer's New Orleans Oyster Festival are in luck. Woody Ruiz, fish taco king of New Orleans, decided that the time to celebrate oysters is now, crafting a new winter food event aiming to please local seafood lovers. His efforts will culminate on Sunday, January 19th, at the first Freret Oyster Jam.
“This began as an idea I had with a couple of facets," said Ruiz, who many will recognize from his food vending operation, "Woody's Fish Tacos."
"I was a shucker for many years, and it’s kind of what led me into my fish taco business. Also, as a food vendor, there are a couple of times a year that slow down, January being one of them. And I thought, 'Hey, what can get people outside in the cold weather to go eat food?' And the first thing that came to me was oysters."
Ruiz has pulled out all the stops in fashioning the event, calling in favors from his friends across the city to make this oyster-centric party something worth savoring. The Jam will of course feature plenty of raw bivalves shucked by notable local experts, including Mike Rogers of Casamento’s, Thomas Stewart from Pascal’s Manale, and Vince D’Aquilla from Cooter Brown’s.
This being New Orleans, music will abound as well. Featured acts include Raw Oyster Cult (naturally), New Orleans Suspects, the Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra, and a few special guests.
Aside from the bountiful raw bar, there will be an oyster shooter station, as well as plenty of hot food options. Dishes to look forward to include chargrilled oysters and Oysters Rockefeller, as well as fried oyster, fish and alligator tacos. According to Ruiz, "Ms. Linda will be serving an oyster dressing, and Jerry Harkins from Clancy’s will be making an oyster pasta, Jason Seither — of Seither’s seafood in Harahan — will be producing an oyster dish as well. I'll also have the green vegan gumbo I made for the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival, too, with an option to add oysters to it."
For hungry, non oyster-eaters, Sven Vorkauf from Bratz Y'all will be serving schnitzel, German bratwurst, and his award-winning "drunken pig po-boy" from the Oak St. Po-boy Festival. "He’s going to be the go-to guy for meat-eaters at the event," said Ruiz.
Ultimately, for Woody, it all comes down to the season. "This is the time of year to eat oysters," he said. "Having an oyster fest in June is great because it gives tourists something to do, but now is when you want to be eating oysters, when the weather is nice and cold. Also, if the Saints win, that’s the same day they’ll be going to the NFC championship, too, so we’re definitely going to make sure to have the games on TV."
The Freret Oyster Jam will be taking place at the Freret St. Publiq House, 4528 Freret Street, on Sunday, January 19th from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance (available here), or $25 at the door.