Gulf Coast Chefs File Class Action Suit Against BP
JACKI LYDEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Jacki Lyden.
For the last 20 years, Chef Susan Spicer's restaurant, Bayona, has been rated one of the best in New Orleans. But its reputation for delicious and inventive seafood dishes is being threatened by the lasting effects of the Gulf oil spill. Last week, Friday, June the 25th, Chef Spicer filed a class-action suit seeking damages not just for her business, but for other New Orleans restaurants and seafood suppliers affected by oil spill.
Susan Spicer joins us from her restaurant, Bayona, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Welcome to the show.
Chef SUSAN SPICER (Owner, Bayona Restaurant): Thanks, Jacki. Im happy to be here today.
LYDEN: And also with us, famed Chef Jose Andres, and he joins us from his restaurant, Jaleo, in Bethesda, Maryland. Thanks for being with us once more.
Chef JOSE ANDRES (Owner, Jaleo Restaurant): Thank you for inviting me.
LYDEN: Susan, let's begin with you. The oil spill in the Gulf has stretched beyond 70 days now. So please tell us what effect it's having on your business, and that of other restaurants in your area.
Ms. SPICER: At this particular time, right now we're just starting to feel a little bit of a pinch. As far as the availability of seafood is concerned, there are still fisheries opened to the west of the Mississippi River, but oysters are virtually out of the picture right now because the beds were closed. Some of the beds have reopened, but a lot of the oyster fishermen are laying boom. They're being paid by BP to lay boom. And we're also not sure how the oysters that are available have been affected. We're still getting shrimp, but it's getting smaller and more expensive.
But it's really not so much about whats happening today. It's the long-term effects that most concern me and my fellow restaurateurs.
LYDEN: So you filed this class-action suit against BP, Transocean, Halliburton, the companies responsible for the downed rig. What are you hoping to gain here?
Ms. SPICER: Hoping to show that they were grossly negligent. And thats why -you know, a lot of people have asked why we didnt just file a claim. But there's not a claim process set up yet for restaurants and the tourism industry. So it's to make a statement; to stand with, you know, a lot of these smaller seafood restaurants and seafood-related industries that are going to be affected by this, absolutely. Some of are starting to be affected already and many, many more, I feel, will be casualties of this disaster.
LYDEN: Now, we did call BP's Houston headquarters for a response. And a spokesman told us the company doesnt comment on individual legal cases. But are you hoping to continue serving the seafood?
Ms. SPICER: Yes, the seafood is being rigorously tested, and what is being sold is safe and healthy to eat. And I will continue to buy from my local vendors, and Ill continue to stand by the product. It's the perception, I think, of a lot the rest of the country that, you know, that everything coming out of the Gulf is tainted. And that is really not the case.
LYDEN: Jose Andres, your restaurants in June participated in a nationwide effort to raise money to help people affected by the spill. What is your sense, in a culinary fashion, about this - in terms of impact? Are restaurants changing their menus away from Gulf seafood?
Mr. ANDRES: I think it's on the contrary. We are trying to actually put as much as we can, if we can buy it.
But I think the most important is to remind everyone that the most important source of energy is not gas. The most important source of energy is food, because food is what keeps us - the humans - with energy. So we need to start thinking about food as the most important source of energy, because it's the energy that keeps moving us, the people - the people of America, the people of world.
And Im only happy about what happened only because I hope that we're going to start taking seriously where our food comes from. Because right now, I dont think we do. And we need to start making sure that our politicians understand that the most important thing is our food, period. And food should be un-negotiable. Food is not only the what keeps us moving, but food is lifestyle...
Ms. SPICER: It's an economic engine, also.
Mr. ANDRES: It's economical engine. It's history. It's the DNA of...
Ms. SPICER: It's culture.
Mr. ANDRES: ...who we are.
Ms. SPICER: Exactly.
Mr. ANDRES: Because everyone is blaming BP. And believe me, they have a lot to be blamed. But it's a bigger talk, like was BP but could be any other company.
Ms. SPICER: Right.
Mr. ANDRES: What are we going to be making? What are we are going to - doing to make sure that in a place like the Gulf of Mexico, that this actually - we are talking food; in this case it's seafood. But what are we going to be making to protect where the food comes from, to make sure that nothing like this will happen?
In Spain, only two, three years ago, we had the same thing - in the northern part of Spain, in Galicia, the same thing. It's the biggest producer of seafood in Spain, one of the biggest producers in Europe. We had an entire ship that broke in half. Oh, my God, was a disaster again. But this keeps happening, keep happening, keep happening. And I think, like, my God, we need to start fixing and finding solutions to make sure that this never happens again.
LYDEN: Chef Jose Andres joined us from his restaurant Jaleo, in Bethesda, Maryland. And Chef Susan Spicer joined us from her restaurant, Bayona, in New Orleans. Thank you both very much for being with us.
Ms. SPICER: Thank you, Jacki. And thank you, Jose.
Mr. ANDRES: Best of luck, and let's keep working hard to make sure this never happens again.
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