Jax Fish House is supporting sustainability, all the way to the East Coast
How do your oysters get here?
It’s a good question for any seafood diner to ask—especially one in Denver, smack dab in the middle of a landlocked state a thousand miles from either coast. It’s also a very common question, according to Sheila Lucero, executive chef of Jax Fish House. The short answer? Quickly. At Jax, oysters are flown in daily, so fresh that they are still alive until they are shucked and placed on your plate.
“I always remind people, how fast could I get to the coast if I took a plane? Two, three hours? Our oysters can fly here just as quickly, and they do,” says Lucero. She chuckles and adds, “Actually, they fly Southwest.”
As for the long answer? Well, you’d have to go back about 20 years. In the early 2000s, a pair of cousins in Virginia inherited their grandfather’s Chesapeake Bay oyster farm. At the time, the Bay was declining in health from overfishing, and the oyster population was at an all-time low. Despite these obstacles, the cousins fought to reintroduce native oyster farming to their community. Relying on the know-how of local enthusiasts and a variety of cutting-edge techniques, in just a few short years they were ready to begin selling their first oysters. The cousins then set out on a cross-country tour, visiting restaurants and doing their best to put Chesapeake Bay oysters back on the culinary map.
“I remember these guys pulling up in a van and asking if I wanted to try some of their oysters,” laughs Lucero. “I was like, ‘Not out of the back of your van, I don’t!’”
Despite the amusing introduction, Lucero was impressed. Jax began carrying Rappahannock Oysters shortly after and has been serving them ever since.
“Oysters are actually a keystone species,” notes Lucero. “Without them, the food chain would not exist like it does today—it would be devastating.”
Massive filterers of water, oysters can filter up to 50 gallons a day, naturally making marine environments more hospitable for other species. Thanks to the work of sustainable farmers like the Rappahannock Oyster Company, today Virginia is bringing in record harvests and now leads the East Coast in oyster production. I sample a few of their Eastern oysters, which are briny and slightly sweet—Lucero recommends adding a squeeze of lemon juice for a bright, tangy bite.
“If you’ve never tried oysters before, these are a great place to start. You’ll be hooked,” she promises.
And Jax’s work with businesses like the Rappahannock Oyster Company is just the tip of the iceberg. Jax was the first restaurant in Colorado to partner with the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, a program that helps consumers choose seafood that is fished or farmed to support a healthy ocean. They also partner with James Beard’s First Catch, The Blue Ocean Institute, and Sea to Table, among others.
In 2017, Lucero and a team from Jax were able to travel to Washington, DC to meet with members of Congress and lobby for sustainability.
“I think it surprised a lot of people that we were there from Denver,” Lucero says. “It meant a lot that we cared, even though we aren’t located anywhere near the ocean.”
And although Jax’s motto is “Bringing the Coast to the Coastless,” the reverse is also true—Jax is bringing the care and support of landlocked Coloradans to our nation’s coasts, creating healthy oceans for this generation and the next.