Straddling his trusty motorcycle, Ben Sargent travels back in time from cosmopolitan Miami to rustic Everglades City, Florida. Whether harvesting spiny lobster in the Atlantic, catching stone crabs in the Gulf of Mexico or "gigging" for frogs in the Everglades, the host of Hook, Line & Dinner discovers that the state's largest city and the country's largest subtropical wilderness have more in common that you might think.
Ben travels "South of the South" to the urban center of Louisiana - New Orleans. What's more, he does so when the city's pulse is at its quickest - Mardi Gras. Whether making gumbo with Leah Chase, the "Queen of Creole Cuisine," shucking oysters near the Hayne Boulevard levee or blackening Gulf fish with the Big Easy's most beloved jester, Jacques Leonardi, Ben explores the city's 400-year-old mishmash of culinary traditions with gusto.
Ben Sargent and his bike roll into the heart of the Bayou, Breaux Bridge, a place that bills itself as the "Crawfish Capital of the World." He joins the local debate as to which is best -- farm-raised or wild-caught crawfish. But Ben's seafood adventures extend beyond freshwater crustaceans to include another staple of the bayou, catfish. Post catch, Ben and local mayor Sherbin Collette drop in on Cafe des Amis, a culinary institution, for some Zydeco music and Cajun catfish with crawfish au gratin sauce.
Ben Sargent discovers the foundations for Charleston's current culinary renaissance is the region's rustic lowcountry cuisine and its seemingly timeless union with all things fresh and aquatic. He experiences firsthand the essence of that union in rustic institutions like Bowens Island Restaurant, a local marsh-side oyster house where it's a monumental understatement to say the amenities are sparse. Whether pan-searing sheepshead fish at Husk in historic downtown Charleston or preparing stuffed blue crab at T.W. Graham & Company in nearby McClellanville, Ben's ingredients are nothing if not local.
Ben follows the footsteps of celebrated adventurers Lewis & Clark as he navigates the Columbia River with the Yakama Nation of Native Americans during their annual sturgeon catch. The locals' reverence for nature and all it provides extends to more recent residents of the state as well, including locavore chef Eric Bechard, who was thrown in jail after a fight broke out over the origins of a pig, after it was determined that it was from out of state. Post catch, Ben pan-sears ling cod at Thistle in McMinnville, as well as preparing crab cakes and crab cocktails at Saffron Salmon in Newport.
When it comes to seafood the very best is that which is caught locally. 'Buy Fresh, Buy Local' is the locavore movement's mantra. As Ben finds out in California, marine habitat destruction, depleted fishing stocks, and strict government regulations don't always make it easy to buy locally. But in Santa Barbara a growing number of restaurants like Brophy Brothers, Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, and the Hungry Cat are part of a sustainable seafood program that is shifting the community's consumption to more viable sources.
Ben's visit to San Francisco is a seafood pilgrimage of sorts. After all, this is the place where the 'locavore' movement got its name. But long before the term was coined, seemingly countless local restaurants served local seafood to generations of local customers. The crowds at institutions like Tadich Grill and Swan Oyster Depot support the claim that people in the Bay Area eat seafood at a rate roughly double that of the national average.
San Diego is a city where life is lived outdoors, and - as Ben can attest - people who live much of their lives outside also eat seafood every chance they get. Hook, Line & Dinner's host works up his appetite by lending local fisherman a hand during the annual sardine run, as well as diving for sea urchins, and spiny lobster. Away from the fruit of the sea, but still in the water, Ben goes surfing with the owner of Bull Taco, Greg Lukasiewicz. From Greg's humble - but gourmet - fish taco, to the slightly more exotic raw sea urchin, Ben enjoys every moment of his seafood diet under the southern California sun.
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