Chef Philippe on Marketing Nutria
The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book by Philippe Parola:
While still in Jackson, Louisiana, I teamed up with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries and launched the challenging campaign to market nutria. Because nutria was eroding the coastline by eating vegetation in the marsh, LDWF approached me to assist with menu and marketing solutions. The bottom line: nutria eradication was needed before severe damage was done.
During the campaign, my friends and great Chefs Daniel Bonnot, Suzanne Spicer and John Besh helped convince a majority of consumers that nutria meat is very high in protein, low in fat and actually healthy to eat. Over the years I have proven that my instinct to create a market for exotic cuisine can be successful, and these chefs appreciated and believed that a difference could be made when we all work together at promoting my trusted idea.
With the help of Mr. Noel Kinler and Edmont Mouton of LDWF, our group cooked nutria stews, nutria soups, roasted nutria, and grilled nutria at many functions. One particular event at Bizou Restaurant on St. Chales Street in New Orleans featured a nutria dinner and a nutria fur coat fashion show where three hundred happy guests arrived to eat nutria prepared by Chefs Spicer, Bonnet and myself.
By this time, several major television networks and National Geographic had picked up on our nutria promotion story. Although the meat was accepted by the majority of consumers – similar to acceptance of escargot - there was resistance from some. The biggest obstacle we had to overcome with getting the meat marketable was the psychological outlook that nutria resembles oversized rats. We put in years of hard work on this project with limited success. We couldn’t get U.S. Department of Agriculture approval to sell the meat for human consumption because herbivore had to be killed in a slaughter house under FDA supervision.
Then one day, out of nowhere, the late Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee decided to use nutria as practice targets for his officers. Shortly thereafter, local media reported that nutria was seen in New Orleans gutters. Nutria, at this point, was being publicized as a nuisance species. Within days from the headlines, our efforts to sustain a nutria market were shot down.
Though our marketing efforts to commercialize an invasive species yielded unpopular opinion, the fact remains that nutria meat is a healthy food. In hindsight, all our efforts of teaching the public about unusual and different food have had a gradual positive impact. Today more people are eating nutria than ever before.
Excerpt from upcoming book by Philippe Parola
About the Louisiana Nutria:
Nutria are large semi-aquatic rodents that were brought to Louisiana from South America in the 1930's for the fur farming industry. They now occupy and have caused extensive damage to the Louisiana coastal wetlands.