Photo: Deborah Keller’s Oyster Farm, Bill Strength Photography
Every now and then your path meanders across that of another person in such a way that it causes you to pause in a most curious fashion. Such was the case when I noticed this unique gentleman out of the corner of my eye. His images had a way of galivanting across my screen with a kind of mouthwatering, fresh from the sea, “the weather is beautiful, wish you were here” kind of style. I was either going to have to block this man, or introduce myself. I went with the latter.
Here’s where Mr. Jim Gossen enters the story. Mr. Gossen was born in Lafayette, LA and he is the CEO & President of Louisiana Fine Food Companies, President of the Gulf Seafood Foundation, and chairman and founder of Louisiana Foods, Texas’s largest seafood distributor. He is a passionate man surrounded by beautiful family and friends, and make no mistake, he’s worked hard for it. You can read more about Jim’s history and background by visiting the Gulf Seafood Foundation.
So with our shared passion for a love of the water and the magic that it produces firmly documented, I decided to write Mr. Gossen a letter. I have just a few questions I said. Do you need me to carry your bags when you travel? Might I be of assistance in making your dinner reservations? And mainly, how does one grow up to be like you one day?
Photo: State of Grace Restaurant, Houston, TX
When he wrote me back (MADE MY DAY!) and granted me permission to do a Q & A for The Boatswain’s Call (THANK YOU!) I immediately consulted a few of my friends and favorite foodies to get me on track with some real questions. All of which resulted in a very thoughtful, insightful, and personal response from Mr. Gossen and one that I’m very pleased to share.
Here we have it then…
Q: What’s the most interesting food book you’ve ever read?
A: In 1984 I went into Kitchen Arts & Letters, Inc. in New York, and Nach Waxman recommended the book “The Gentlemen’s Companion” by Charles Baker. It was the most interesting food book I have ever read. I have, in a small way, tried to live like Mr. Baker. If you can find the book I would highly recommend it. It has been out of print for many years but does come up on the used book market. “
Q: What is one of your favorite waterfront restaurants that’s accessible by boat, or best memory along those lines?
A: I love so many places and have so many terrific memories, but one being the most memorable was coming into the marina at Capt. Anderson’s by boat and going inside and eating fresh scamp grouper. My fondest though was driving up Chuckanut Drive and pulling up to the Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive overlooking the Pugent Sound in Bow, Washington. It as a breathtaking memorable experience.
Photo credit: Seaworthy
Q: How do you pick a restaurant out on the road? Will you really drive 100 miles out of the way to find a better meal?
A: Most of the time I get recommendations from friends in the area I am traveling but love exploring neighborhood restaurants, especially if they have been around over 50 years. I love Italian delis in old large cities. I do drive sometimes several hours out of my way for unique and delicious food. Searching it out, visiting the people that fish for it, grow and/or cook it is one of my passions and hobbies.
Q: I saw the classic Charleston Shucker in one of your posts, is it as functional as it is beautiful?
A: The Charleston Shucker is beautiful, strong and well-built and handy for carrying while I’m on the oyster boat. It’s good for tasting a few but if you’re shucking a box I like a round handle. It is easier on my hand. It’s a great tool, good to have several around.
Photo: Charleston Shucker, courtesy of Jim Gossen
Q: What is the biggest mistake people make when cooking seafood?
A: Over cooking and adding too much to the dish. Seafood has a delicate, delicious taste and most of the time the simplest preparation is the best. I enjoy good food and dining out but I do get tired of Chefs trying to outdo each other with smoke and mirrors. A great hamburger doesn’t need more than good beef well seared with black pepper, salt, mayonnaise, a thick slice of ripe tomato and a dab of mustard on a warm bun. Simplicity is brilliant!
Photo: Gulf Red Snapper, Boshamps Oyster House, Destin , FL
Q: What important experiences in your life led you to where you are today?
A: My mother, father and paternal grandparents were my foundation and play a huge part of where I am today. I grew up in South Louisiana, Cajun, the oldest of seven and learned the importance of family, friends and fun. As a child I asked my great grandfather why are we called Cajuns? His reply was “Everyone works and takes time off to play, Cajuns play and take time off to work.” I lived my life that way, finding a profession that I enjoyed and my passion for it made me feel like I was always having fun.
Photo: Chicken (Hen) Gumbo with Fresh Pork Sausage, Don’s Seafood, Lafayette, LA, courtesy Jim Gossen
Q: Do you have a mission in life? If so, do you feel you are fulfilling it?
A: I never thought about my mission while building my businesses. My main concern was to make enough to pay my employees and goods I was selling. I believed in reinvesting my profits in my business and always looking for the best products available that I could find to sell. It is easier to sell something once, then it should sell itself. I fulfilled my mission by staying in business 45 years with one remaining restaurant in Houston. Now my mission has changed, to help reinvent our Gulf Coast seafood and show the world what great seafood the Gulf produces.
Photo: Gulf Coast Oysters, Rachael’s Café, Lafayette, LA
Q: For those that would like to grow up and be like you one day what advice would you give them.
A: Find a field you love, put your heart into it and never count your hours. I look back and can’t remember a time when I wasn’t thinking about being better at what we did. I never had the feeling that I had made it or we were good enough.
Q: What am I not asking that you could share about your passions, family, and love of what you do?
A: I love my wife and family and prefer to enjoy life with them and my close friends over terrific food. I love spending the fall and spring on the Gulf Coast beaches, and sitting out on my deck at my beach house in Grand Isle, LA. Whether its early mornings or late evenings I enjoy watching the lights and listening to the humming of the shrimp boat engines trolling the beaches.
Thank you, Jim for letting me tag along in your story, it’s been a true pleasure meeting you. You’re indeed a modest soul, it must be a Cajun thing.
To my fellow mariners who are still paying attention I’ll let you in on a nice surprise (and it does indeed require my taking note of who reads my blog post to the end). Jim and Diane are planning on joining us for one of our future excursions to Admiral’s Island in the Gulf Islands National Sea Shore. Expect lots of fabulous oysters, fresh seafood, several Charleston Shuckers on hand, and some fine company.
In the meantime I’ll be looking for “The Gentleman’s Companion“, (I suddenly can’t live without it), ordering my personalized Charleston Shucker, and planning a get away to the Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive overlooking the Pugent Sound in Bow, Washington. As always, I hope you’ll join me!
See you in the blue ocean friends.
Photo: Jim and Diane Gossen