Shina Wysocki and Kyle Lentz take their responsibility as stewards of South Sound’s precious oyster habitat very seriously. This sister/brother duo owns and manages Chelsea Farms, an organic, sustainable oyster farm in Olympia, where their family has nurtured indigenous shellfish populations for decades.
Their restaurant, Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar, is a delight for the senses as well as the palate. Wysocki, along with Executive Chef Elise Landry, has created a menu that allows shellfish to shine, showcasing rotating seasonal harvests of local oysters served up in a cool, industrial-chic space inside the 222 Market in downtown Olympia.
“Our menu offers oysters that are great in spring — they have some food in the water, sunshine is starting to come out, and they’ll be fatter than later in the season,” she said, “We start featuring locally grown produce this time of year, too, like radishes and asparagus that are just coming into season.”
Their best-selling dish is no ordinary clam chowder — it’s a clam-lover’s dream. A generous portion of freshly harvested, juicy clams in their shells swims in a creamy stock, accompanied by chunks of Yukon potatoes and lardons of pork belly. A thick, crunchy slice of toasted bread is balanced delicately on the edge of the bowl, beckoning a dip into the tasty broth.
Chelsea Farms, just a few miles from the restaurant on Eld Inlet, supplies the bounty that can be sampled throughout the restaurant’s menu. The inventive, shellfish-laden dishes served at the oyster bar highlight not just the chef’s culinary prowess, but also the fact that Wysocki and Lentz are passionate environmentalists who wake up every morning energized to showcase sustainably grown food.
“The ocean is becoming more acidic, and fossil-fuel emissions are making it worse,” Wysocki laments. “That can be lethal for oyster larvae, because it inhibits their ability to form shells.” But she isn’t discouraged — she enthusiastically promotes the protection of the local marine ecosystem to anyone who will listen. “This is a working waterfront that needs to be protected. It’s a resource for a huge number of people.
“I feed people oysters so they become engaged and connected to the environment. The more people feel they can enjoy Puget Sound, the more they feel connected to the natural things here.”
Saving the environment never tasted so good.
Shina Wysocki explains the nuances of flavor in these delectable mollusks.
Olympias are the only oysters native to the West Coast of the U.S. “They’re like little powerhouses of flavor and oyster-ness. Their strong flavor gives them kind of a zing compared to a Pacific oyster, which is much creamier and mild.”
The method of cultivating Chelsea Gems was developed by Wysocki’s family. “We call these tide-tumbled Pacific oysters. They’re grown in bags suspended from buoys in the water. The tumbling motion creates a completely new flavor profile — clean, sweet, and buttery, with a delicate touch of brine. A Chelsea Gem is the perfect starter oyster for newbies. It’s really good raw.”
“This is a beach-cultured oyster we grow on Cooper Point,” Wysocki said. “It’s more of an oyster-lover’s oyster — they’re a bit larger and richer than the others. We grow them on the sunny side of the bay, so they have more food.”