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Restauranteur Profile: James McDuffee of Jeffrey’s Grocery on the Oyster Game

By Susannah Black
September 1, 2015

Jeffrey's Grocery 3

James McDuffee, Chef, COO and Managing Partner of Jeffrey’s Grocery and Happy Cooking Company, gives us his BOP story:

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What made you want to get into the restaurant/oyster bar business?

The short story is that I blame my parents for everything. If I wanted a car when I turned 16 I would have to pay for it so I started working in restaurants when I was 14 washing dishes and making coffee creamer bowls. Turns out, I like hard work and it led me to cooking in a half dozen cities, working in countless restaurants, being humbled regularly and realizing how much I love the industry.

When you got into the oyster game did you realize what incredible filtration and land protection powers oysters had?

I loved science growing up so I knew that oysters were an amazing and vital part of marine ecosystems. It wasn’t until I read Mark Kurlansky’s The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell that I knew what we had done to New York Harbor. It made it all the more exciting to jump on board with Billion Oyster Project when the opportunity arose.

What makes Jeffrey’s Grocery unique?

This is always the easiest question to answer about any of our restaurants. It’s our staff, our colleagues- in short, our family. It’s the culture of who we are as a restaurant, a family of restaurants and more importantly as a part of our community and neighborhood. It’s amazing to have so many great people on our team, and as our neighbors and guests.

Where do most of the oysters on your menu come from?

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We try and stay on the East Coast with our oysters. They are so approachable, easy to eat and fresh. I know there are some people that LOVE WestCoast oysters, and we do from time to time have a couple, but the oysters we love the most are from right here on the East Coast. Why search far and wide when there are so many great oysters close to home?

What’s your favorite kind of oyster on your menu?

My favorite oyster is the Island Creeks from Skip and his team up in Duxbury, MA. If it weren’t for these oysters, I may not have met my wife and that would be a shame.

Are you a purist when it comes to eating oysters or do you like to shake things up with mignonettes?

exteriorI am pretty much a purist. I think there is so much to enjoy about the differences in the flavors of oysters from differing waters, why cover it up? That being said, I do mix it up and will try the accouterments but not always use them.

What’s your favorite dish on the Jeffrey’s Grocery menu other than oysters?

I’d have to say the Escargot Toast with confit chicken, crispy chicken skin, capers and grilled country bread. It can be a snack or a meal, and it hits all the right tastes- it’s sweet, salty, meaty. It’s something I return to ordering again and again.

What’s coming up in the next month for Jeffrey’s Grocery?

What’s not to love about the end of summer and beginnings of fall in New York? New things are suddenly in season, fresh and beautiful. We’ll be celebrating this amazing time of year on the menu at Jeffrey’s. We’re also looking forward to hosting an event with our friends at Billion Oyster Project on September 27.

Lastly, any special tips or tricks to shucking an oyster?

Take your time and make them beautiful. Don’t pop the bellies. More importantly DO NOT stab yourself.

Jeffrey’s Grocery joined the BOP Shell Collection Program operated by Earth Matter in July 2015. To date BOP has restored 16,000,000 live oysters to the NY Harbor with help from our restaurant partners.