Those white rubber boots so ubiquitous around Louisiana’s fishing docks have been turned into a publicity tool in a new campaign to help local shrimpers establish new markets for their product around the country. A group of Louisiana shrimpers calling themselves the White Boot Brigade have been on the move, stomping around in their white boots and hosting events that promote the quality of Louisiana shrimp and draw attention to a traditional local industry battered by Hurricane Katrina and endangered by foreign competition.
The idea is to throw a lifeline to the traditional Louisiana livelihood of harvesting wild shrimp by creating new, direct markets with consumers who crave freshness, quality and taste, says Richard McCarthy, director of the Crescent City Farmers Market, which conceived the project.
In May, the White Boot Brigade traveled to New York City for the first promotional events about their campaign outside of Louisiana. They enlisted some of Manhattan’s top-rated chefs to help spread the word and use Louisiana shrimp in their restaurants, including Daniel Boulard, winner of this year’s Outstanding Chef award from the prestigious James Beard Foundation. The group organized a party at the studios of the Food Network, where New Orleans-based celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse cooked shrimp dishes for the crowd.
All the publicity was a build up for the group’s first White Boot Brigade dinner – an event that took place on June 20, when restaurants across the city served Louisiana shrimp and offered information about the White Boot Brigade. McCarthy stresses that the program is not a fund-raiser for shrimpers – the restaurants are asked for nothing but their patronage – but rather a form of business development to help an endangered local industry build new markets. The group provides participating restaurants with promotional tabletops, artwork and the methods to purchase product directly from the Louisiana shrimpers.
“Our hope is that White Boot Brigade dinners will jumpstart new, beautiful relationships between high profile chefs and low land shrimpers,” says McCarthy.
In addition to the participating restaurants, the group is pushing for New York seafood markets to display White Boot Brigade materials and sell their shrimp.
Closer to home, the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board is making its own push for local shrimp. To infuse a little regional pride, the group declared this year’s shrimp season “Bonne Crevette” – French for “good shrimp” – and is promoting local shrimp in restaurants and through advertising. – I.M.