The Mexican Oyster That Could Change the Whole Game
The first time I spoke with Tom Kehoe, the owner of seafood distributor K&B Seafood, it was 7:55 a.m. on a Monday and I’d just been jolted awake by his phone call.
"We oyster people are early risers,” he apologized a few hours later at Grand Central Oyster Bar, New York City’s hallowed hall of clamorous oyster worship. Kehoe had lured me to Grand Central with a new oyster he was peddling: the Baja Kumamoto, the world’s first Kumamoto oyster grown in Mexico.
The deep-cupped Kumamoto, famed for its diminutive size, sweet flavor and cucumber finish, is among the most popular oysters on America’s rapidly expanding oyster scene. But a Kumamoto grown for American consumption anywhere but the cold waters of northern California and Washington State—which together have a monopoly on Kumamoto production—might strike some as strange, and potentially even dangerous: The thought of slurping down a raw oyster grown in Mexican waters sends shivers down some spines. “I think [these oysters’] biggest problem is perception,” Kehoe conceded, before launching into an explanatory spiel.
Most Americans assume that oysters originating from south of the border are grown in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, he said, and are therefore more susceptible to disease. They’re also wary of Mexican standards of quality and sanitation. But Baja Kumamotos, or Kumos, are produced exclusively by the aquaculture company Maxmar, a 15-year-old company founded by a pair of Brits named Mark—Mark Reynolds and Mark Venus—both with masters degrees in aquaculture.
Photo credit: Timothy Davis
The Marks grow their oysters in the chilly waters off the Western shores of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, where water temperatures range from 52 to 68 degrees. This is thanks to the California Current, which coaxes frigid waters down from Alaska and along the coasts of California and Baja, producing an ideal environment for Kumos. The water is cooler in summer than the Gulf of Mexico, but not so frigid in winter that oysters’ growth is slowed, which happens in California and Washington State.
Moreover, to meet criteria for export to the United States, all foreign seafood producers, including Maxmar, must submit to regular testing from FDA officers, who hold it to the same standards as any American facility.