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Considering the oyster with Luc Chamberland

November 21, 2008 |  4:04 pm

OystershogislandDavid Foster Wallace considered the lobster. But Luc Charles Chamberland prefers the oyster.

Chamberland, the general manager of San Francisco restaurant Jeanty at Jack's and a partner in Hog Island Oyster Co., will put his lifelong oyster expertise to good use at Canelé on Monday night.

Growing up in the northern California town of Marshall just 10 miles north of Point Reyes, Chamberland was surrounded by oysters. The small town (population 50) on the shores of narrow Tomales Bay produces roughly 5 to 8 million oysters per year or nearly 80% of the oysters grown in California. On Monday morning, Chamberland will pick a grip of them fresh from the water, pack them into a cooler and fly to Los Angeles where he'll discuss and serve the slippery little mollusks at Canelé's "Consider the Oyster" event (6:30 to 10:30 p.m., Nov. 24; $60 per person).

"The water is to the oyster what the soil is to the vine," Chamberland says. "Grapes are very much the reflection of the earth in which they were grown, and there are certain characteristics that are imbued to them through the soil. Same with oysters. The water imparts flavors to the oysters that are very unique, and different bodies of water of have different flavors. I call this aqua-terroir."

Typically briny up front with a sweet finish, these Tomales Bay oysters are produced by a collective of five individual growers. Water temperatures typically hover around 55 degrees in the bay, which makes for very firm-bodied oysters. The twice-daily, 6-foot tide creates wind and wave action, so there's always plenty of food for the oysters to eat. And the bay isn't heavily affected by the surrounding area. "There's a limited population base, no industry and it's surrounded by a national seashore, a state park and protected land," Chamberland says. "So Tomales Bay is very clean and picture perfect for presenting oysters."

-- Elina Shatkin

Photo: Oysters are laid out in a tray at the Hog Island Oyster Co. located in Tomales Bay in northern California. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times