Hollygrove fishmonger Valdrie Collins sells whole fish and shrimp by the pound out of his tiny store From the Boat to You (3206 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-914-4509; www.fromtheboattoyou.com). A chef by trade, Collins started selling fish on the streets across New Orleans in 2012 after a bike accident forced him to close the restaurant he owned in Dallas. Collins spoke with Gambit about growing up fishing and hunting in New Orleans and starting his business.
How did you get into the business?
Collins: I'm a chef by trade. I had opened a barbecue place in Dallas, but after I got into a bike accident and crushed my ankle, I had to close the restaurant and eventually came back home. I was raised here in Holly- grove, and I grew up on Oleander Street.
I learned how to walk again and had a few dollars left over and so I said, "Well, what do you want to do?"
There was a guy over on Claiborne Avenue and he used to sell fish. So I stopped over one day. I was just being nosy and I asked him what you had to do to apply. From there, I got my mobile license and started setting up on the side of the road, running all over the city selling fish. I was the fish man. After a while, I started setting up in this one spot, and I wound up getting this place, which was empty. So little bit by little bit, I fixed the place up.
Where do your fish come from and what kinds do you sell?
C: I do strictly Louisiana: redfish, flounder, black drum, sheepshead — stuff like that. I also do some yellowtail snapper and tilapia, but none of the high-end stuff.
I'm a licensed wholesale retailer, so everything is directly from the boat. I deal directly with the shrimpers and the fishermen; I go directly to the source. I deal with a lot of guys out of St. Bernard Parish because those boys are right at our back door. If those guys aren't catching anything, you might have someone in Lafitte, right across the river.
I started (fishing) when I was 7 or 8. My uncle taught me — he was a sportsman, big time. All of my uncles and all of my cousins on both sides of the family — we all hunt, we all fish. I hunt, too. I'm a sportsman. (I hunt) small game, everything: rabbits, raccoons, squirrels. I'm a country boy, so we do road kill and everything. I like to think I've got the best of both worlds: living in the city and the country. I'm a survivor, period.
After (Hurricane) Katrina, you've got ducks running around, you've got game running around, you've got squirrels — why not? We were just trying to survive. Everyone thought we were crazy, but we were eating. We weren't starving at all.
How do you like to cook fish?
C: This industry isn't a summer or winter thing. People will eat seafood all year round. You can cook (fish) all kinds of ways. I like to make curry shrimp. Baking is an easy way to go: salt, pepper, garlic pepper and some fresh lemon — you cannot go wrong. A lot of people are scared of the heat, but 450 degrees is not hot and 350 (degrees) takes too long. You want your fish to immediately start cooking. If you're cooking it at a low temperature, you're almost poaching it; it'll get soft and mushy. You want it to start cooking right away.
I love thyme and oregano and rosemary. I love the way herbs make that buttery flavor pop.