New Orleans Top Chefs Tour New “Catch of the Day” Habitat

NWF Leads Airboat Tour at Davis Pond

In the fight to save the wetlands that protect and provide for the ways of life in Southern Louisiana, the National Wildlife Federation is enlisting the help of New Orleans’ chefs to support the long-term sustainability of the delta and the coast. The National Wildlife Federation arranged a tour of the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion to show these chefs the power and opportunities that coastal restoration tools, such as diversions, have to offer.

At the end of a long channel stretching from the Mississippi River into the upper Barataria Basin lies a lush green marsh, fringed by tall willow trees. In the surrounding water, alligators lurk, the occasional fish breaks the surface and birds fly overhead. This is the outfall area of the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion – a gated structure built into the Mississippi River levee that can be opened and closed to allow the flow of freshwater, nutrients and sediment from the Mississippi River to into upper Barataria Basin.

Alligators gather at the diversion structure to snack on the freshwater fish that get swept into the channel from the river. Photo by Samantha Carter

Completed in 2002, Davis Pond was constructed to help restore the delicate balance between freshwater and saltwater in the estuary, enhancing the habitat and productivity of its fish and wildlife. Moreover, in addition to restoring the salinity gradient to this estuary, the restoration project has also built new land. This beautiful scene, and what it represents for the future of Louisiana, is what drew a dozen of New Orleans’ premier chefs out on a Monday morning tour with the National Wildlife Federation.

As a thick fog slowly rose off the west bank of the Mississippi River on Halloween morning, NWF staff gathered at a marina on the western outskirts of Westwego, Louisiana. In the gravel lot off of US Route 90, one by one, renowned chefs drove in to meet them. Three airboats sat at the dock in the marina waiting to take the chefs out to see some of the newest land in Louisiana – land built by the Mississippi River through the Davis Pond Diversion.

David Muth discusses the processes that built the new land in Davis Pond and how similar but greatly improved structures and operations can have a significant impact on slowing land loss and building new land in the Mississippi River Delta.
NWF’s David Muth discusses the processes that built the new land in Davis Pond. Photo by Samantha Carter

Over the course of the day, the chefs toured the wetlands and learned about the power of the Mississippi River to build and sustain the critical wetlands that protect coastal Louisiana communities and economies, including the restaurant and seafood industries. The talented attendees included Dickie Brennan (Dickie Brennan & Company), Nathan Richard (Kingfish), Samantha and Cody Carrol (Sac-a-Lait), Michael Brewer (Elements), Melissa Martin (Mosquito Supper Club and Curious Oyster), Dan Jackson (Piece of Meat), Dana Honn (Carmo), Rebecca Wilcomb (Herbsaint) and Ryan Prewitt (Peche).

Chef Dickie Brennan snacks on alligator chili prepared and served by Piece of Meat butchers after the airboat ride. Photo from NWF
Chef Dickie Brennan snacks on alligator chili prepared and served by Piece of Meat butchers after the airboat ride. Photo by Samantha Carter

Chefs were able to see this brand new land and discuss its implications for coastal restoration with experts from NWF and Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Attendees snacked on alligator chili prepared by the local pop-up butchers at Piece of Meat, which served as a satisfying lunch and also demonstrated the connections between restoration and culinary opportunities with the variety of species that span our estuaries’ salinity gradients. Many of New Orleans great chefs have become strong coastal advocates, working with the National Wildlife Federation to protect our coast – its culture, its economies and its wildlife.

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