Why I Can’t Bear the Thought of Going Clamming

Wild Seafood At Duke’s

Since I began my career as a restaurateur, I’ve sought out the finest natural ingredients available to bring to my customers. This is especially so when it comes to seafood. Decades before sustainability was a buzzword in the restaurant industry, I was searching for responsibly caught and properly processed seafood from Alaska, knowing that this was the highest quality seafood that my customers deserved. I have dedicated years to learning everything I can about how fish are caught, bled, processed and transported; every step of the journey from ocean to table is designed with maintaining that beautiful wild flavor while ensuring future generations also have the chance to enjoy it.

Being so deeply involved in sourcing the seafood for Duke’s Chowder House has resulted in some pretty great stories, and I’d like to share one with you now. This is the story of why I can’t ‘bear’ the thought of going clamming (the title will make sense shortly, I promise).

The Clamming Story

Going clamming

Freshly harvested Razor Clams are among the most delicious in the world.

One time I was visiting Alaska and happened to be in Polly Creek, near the town of Kodiak. This area is well known for being one of the best places in the world for harvesting razor clams, and I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

Clamming is a popular activity in Alaska, drawing families down to the beaches with buckets and shovels to harvest the abundant shellfish. Arctic Razor Clams are especially known for their deliciousness and versatility.

The specific area I wanted to check out was very secluded, so I enlisted the help of my friend Bob Simon of Pacific Seafood. Together, we flew out in a tiny bush plane with big tires to a flat stretch of coastline. We landed directly on a wet sandy beach and hopped out wearing tall rubber boots, which were great at keeping our feet dry but were not ideal for walking! We must have trudged about a mile in thick mud that sucked at our ankles with every step. That wet, suctioning sound was the only sound in the world at that moment; it was so incredibly quiet surrounded by the still, beautiful Alaskan wilderness.

Going clamming

Our trusty bush plane.

Going clamming

Don’t go beachcombing in Alaska without a sturdy pair of rubber boots!

As we neared the harvesting area, I noticed a dark shape in the distance. I squinted my eyes, trying to determine what it was. It was too far away, but I thought perhaps it was a large dog. I mentioned this to Bob, perplexed; we were alone in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with nobody around for miles! Why was somebody’s Great Dane out on the mudflats?

Well, Bob shaded his eyes and said, “That doesn’t look like a dog, it looks like a huge horse.” A split second after he said this, I realized exactly what it is we were seeing: a massive bear with her two cubs. At that moment, she noticed us. Standing up on her hind legs, she was truly enormous! She made a move in our direction and growled low in her throat, and that was all the encouragement I needed.

Going clamming

I know it looks small in the photo, but trust me, this was a very large bear!

I turned around and began running as fast as one can in sticky mud and rubber boots (turns out, this isn’t very fast). Already sore from our mile-long hike through the quicksand, my feet promptly developed several painful blisters, which I ignored as I bolted for the plane. Looking back, I saw that Bob was still rooted to the spot, and he was taking pictures! Turning to say something to me, he realized I had a 50-yard head start on him and he moved to catch up.

Going clamming

As you can see, I was in a hurry to get away.

We didn’t look back to see whether the mother bear was following us or not. Surprisingly, bears can be incredibly fast, especially mothers protecting their cubs. All I kept thinking was that I didn’t have to be fast; I just had to be faster than Bob! Thankfully, the bear had decided to stay behind with her cubs. As we safely reached the plane I could feel the adrenaline pumping through me, and I knew I would never forget this experience.

Bear on the Beach

Going clamming

Coastal bears rely on the the ocean for a large part of their diet, including salmon and shellfish.

You may be wondering at this point why there was a bear prowling a muddy Alaskan beach with her cubs. Shouldn’t they be in the woods eating berries, or catching salmon from a river?

Fun fact of the day: coastal bears LOVE eating clams! I mentioned earlier that clamming was a fun family activity in Alaska, and indeed almost anywhere on West Coast of North America. This includes bears, which forage for clams at low tide just like the rest of us. Using their superior noses, excellent vision, and sensitive footpads, bears are able to detect clams that lie beneath the sand. Sharp claws or teeth are handy for digging up and opening up the tough shells, and the meat inside disappears quickly. Clams are rich in protein, and help the bears put on much needed fat in preparation for winter.

The Adventure Continues

Going clamming

I return to Alaska year after year, constantly learning and looking for more sustainable ways to bring quality fish to my customers.

My brief encounter with the mother bear has had a profound impact on me as a person. It deepened my respect for the Alaska wilderness and its majestic inhabitants. Salmon, razor clams, bears and scallops; we are intertwined with all of them in a complex relationship that goes beyond food. The fish I catch ensures that families in my city have access to safe, healthy and wholesome food, while what I don’t catch ensures the same for the bear.

It also helps to preserve wild seafood populations for future generations, which is my ultimate goal. I am determined to do my part in making sure that my grandchildren, and my grandchildren’s grandchildren, have access to good food like Wild Salmon and Razor Clams. That is the driving philosophy behind Duke’s Chowder House. It creates my never-ending adventure, and the encounter with the bear is just a story within a larger story, the one about sustainability. Serving quality food that is safe to eat and doesn’t harm the environment is extremely important to me, and I’ve made it my mission to lead by example and help others in creating their own stories.

Moral of the story: don’t let the bears scare you away from doing the right thing. Look long and hard enough, and you’ll see it’s all connected anyway.

Book a reservation at one of our six locations today, and become a part of the story.

February 7, 2017
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