A Tour of Sky8 Shrimp Farm, LLC: Engineering sustainable shrimp farming in Stoughton, MA

Even somJTranSky8eone with a Ph.D.…no one knows everything!” says James Tran in a hopeful, light-hearted tone during the beginning of our Culinary Guild tour Friday morning. Tran, a 39-year-old native of Vietnam, has spent the last two years in endless trial and error scenarios attempting the first shrimp farm in Massachusetts. Mainly a three-person team, along with frequent consultants and some investors, Tran combined his engineering background, his upbringing in the family shrimp business, and his entrepreneurial spirit to develop a method of shrimp farming that is sustainable, natural and chemical-free for the shrimp, and aims to have no environmental impact or disruption to Stoughton, the hatcheries, and New England’s coastal areas. We are happy to report that thus far, his goals and passion are slowly coming to fruition.

In a bare bones industrial park, lined with modestly staggered rows of brick buildings, Tran has nearly exhausted the space of his intimate shrimp farming facility from five tanks to eight tanks, and counting. Growing four different sizes of shrimp, he hopes to further expand his warehouse to answer the local restaurant demand for his gourmet Pacific White shrimp. Utilizing a zero water exchange facility, Tran takes fresh Atlantic Ocean water, trucked in from the coast of New Hampshire at high tide, and recycles this salt water after each consecutive shrimp crop. With high technology advanced recirculation, filtration, and temperature control systems, Tran can oversee every step of shrimp growth and has the ability to send messages to his phone if there is a problem with the tanks.

Tran engineered his own three-stage process controller system including advanced recirculation, filtration, and close temperature regulators, while others in the shrimp farming business use an unsuccessful one-stage method. He finds this to be more successful and efficient, while keeping with his goals to remain environmentally sound and have a lower carbon footprint. With regulation of salinity levels and warmer water temperature, the shrimp can sell to market in 85-90 days. Waste is incredibly low from the implementation of denitrification and mesh filters, allowing an annual total waste byproduct from the shrimp tanks at an average of 2 inches. Even more low impact, Tran’s shrimp grow in water around 82-83 degrees F, so this heated environment also supplies heat to their building and warehouse.







Sourcing their shrimp larvae from an FDA certified hatchery in Florida, Tran knows that he is purchasing from a very controlled environment. From larvae size, which is smaller than a mosquito, it takes about 12 days for the shrimp to grow to about one inch in size. Throughout the tour as we listened to Tran and his team speak about the shrimp, their vision and desire to respect the shrimp and bring a new perspective overall to the shrimp farming industry is inspiring. Multiple times, Tran expressed that when they are harvesting the shrimp from the tanks, he never wants to stress them out. They are never frozen and are only delivered directly to restaurants on ice without the use of any preservatives or chemicals.

His optimum goals are to develop more circular tanks for easier net harvesting, providing more room in the tanks for the shrimp, and one day to build his own hatchery and feed the shrimp with a 100% vegetarian feed. The “8” in Sky8 may mean that James Tran started the eighth shrimp farm in the U.S., but it is also the luckiest number in Chinese culture. From witnessing disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill that have nearly destroyed shrimp ecosystems, James Tran is ready to take on the challenge and provide the shrimp industry with an ecologically responsible, local source for freshly grown seafood.

Jillian Bernardini

Culinary Guild of N.E. Opening Meeting

Commanders MansionSeptember 15th was a beautiful early fall evening, providing the proper ambiance for the Opening Meeting of the 2014-2015 season of the Culinary Guild of New England.  Our venue was the elegant Commander’s Mansion in Watertown and our featured guest speaker was celebrated chef and cookbook author Nina Simonds.

Board members had prepared a number of sumptuous spreads and delicacies in honor of the event.  A long table displayed a magnificent basket of fresh garden crudités and dips, along with a number of ripened cheeses, fresh breads and crackers.  These were contributed by Jen Verrill of Verrill Farm.  Guida Ponte served cups of her flavorful Mexican chicken vegetable soup.  Guests drifted throughout the stately parlors sipping glasses of Austrian Gruener Veltliner, or a delicious Chianti provided by Brix Wines.

The hors d’oeuvres were bounteous, one of them being a tray of mini spring rolls prepared by Chef Lou Schorr, owner of the new Thai restaurant Maekha Thai in Revere.  There were also a number of Mediterranean-style dishes from ‘ester, a new restaurant in Dorchester. Chefs at ‘ester had made Tzatziki, a Greek yogurt dip punctuated with cucumbers from their rooftop garden. ‘ester also provided Tabouli, a spread of fresh garden tomatoes and parsley as well as Muhammara, a dip of red peppers and walnuts.

Other appetizers had been strategically placed around the mansion. There were tiny cookies, “coins” of cheese and rosemary salt baked by Karen Ucuz. .  For dessert Lynne Gassiraro had made double chocolate biscotti, healthy brownie bites of walnuts, cocoa, and unsweetened coconut, as well as gluten-free double chocolate peanut butter bars. Sweet, crunchy white chocolate and pine nut meringues were the delicious work of Lisa Jacobs.

After an hour of eating, drinking and networking, it was time for the program.  After a brief update by Guild President Kris Piatt, and financial review by Treasurer Lisa Primavera,   Kris introduced our speaker:  Nina Simonds.

In her address to the Guild, Nina emphasized “the Optimum Healthy Pantry” and stressed the role of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and sources of proteins in our diet.

Suggestions for healthy dishes with life-giving properties she stated, can be found at www.spiceoflife.com.  Among her specific suggestions for healthy eating were avocados, bananas, beans, lentils and other legumes as well as berries, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower–various cruciferous vegetables. Chili peppers, cherry tomatoes, cinnamon, cashews were mentioned as possible additions to numerous dishes with an emphasis on Yin and Yang. Foods with Yin qualities would be chilled summer salads and cool shrimp dishes with light summery flavors. Those with Yang flavors would be hot winter soups, thick stews, and chunky meat and pasta dishes.

Overall, stated Nina, the key to a healthy living lifestyle is balance with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits as well as less meat.  She stressed the important life-giving properties of herbs and spices, which are under- utilized in today’s cooking.  We should keep in mind that the objective is a “Healthy Eating Plate,” and we should each strive to reach that goal.

Isabel Chesak  

Culinary Weekend in Brooklyn, New York

Recently, The Culinary Guild of New England took a culinary tour of Brooklyn, New York. Here, CGNE member Isabel Chesak recounts all of the delicious eats, fantastic sights and interesting history we took in over our three-day stay there. 

Brooklyn is so alive! Here in Williamsburg, every block seems to offer some interesting restaurant, sight or shop. Everything excites my curiosity!

I have arrived here with friends from The Culinary Guild of New England on a Friday afternoon, and our first destination is Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens for dinner. It is a loud and hopping place with a butcher-block bar and a communal table. Conversation is difficult, but the atmosphere is colorful and inviting. Buttermilk Channel is supposedly named for a channel where dairy farmers used to drive their cattle across at low tide. It is said the waters in those days were so rough that the cows’ milk used to churn to buttermilk. Nobody seems to know the truth of the restaurant’s name, but it is certainly respected for its crisp and crunchy buttermilk fried chicken. I, however, am more interested in the grilled flatbread with its house-made buttermilk ricotta and in the succulent and briny oysters. I follow these with an entree of a parsley-crusted New England hake with fresh shelling beans and rainbow chard in an orange blossom broth with chili oil. It proves to be an excellent choice.

Breakfast the next morning is at Egg. This Southern and soul food establishment is enticing with its tater tots and southern-style biscuits. The veggies come from the restaurant’s own garden, and a popular item on the menu is the crispy duck hash where a seared duck leg, home fries and crispy green onions are smeared into a mash-up crowned with a softly cooked egg.

Heading into our Mast Bros. tour!

Heading into our Mast Bros. tour!

After breakfast we go next door to Mast Brothers Chocolate. As we enter the facility, the smell of melting chocolate is heady. I can almost taste it! We are given a tour of this brightly lit establishment where the chocolates are made using only cacao beans and sugar. After watching the chocolate production, from the bean to the final product, five different chocolates of various tastes and of different origins are offered to us. Each has a different flavor – the flavor is a result of the soil at the origin of the chocolate (there are no additional flavorings added). My favorite was the dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds made with Madagascar cacao.

Checking out the chocolate.

Checking out the chocolate.

Following our tour of Mast Brothers, our Williamsburg guides, Liz Pavese and Neil Piat, proceed to show us the funky boutiques and vintage clothing stores of Williamsburg’s Grand Street. This hip community with its backdrop of old industrial buildings has been home to old Jewish and Italian families for many years.

Enjoying Brooklyn Brewery.

Enjoying Brooklyn Brewery.

After poking around in various eclectic shops, we tour the Brooklyn Brewery where we are refreshed with a welcome stein of Hefeweizen beer and learn some of the traditions of this popular brewery. Williamsburg, a haven for immigrants in the 19th century, had a vigorous tradition for beer brewing due to its extensive German population. The Germans have always had stringent beer codes of using only hops, wheat, barley, yeast and water in their productions, and although this tradition died out in the middle of the 20th century, Brooklyn Brewery has managed to reignite the culture of beer brewing. During the 19th century, it was not unusual to see children making their way home in the early evenings with pails of beer for their overworked parents. These pails were termed “growlers.” The brewery likes to use this term when describing their various mugs of beer.

Later it’s on to Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg. The latter is a gigantic market of food carts producing decadent edible treats, a real locavore food festival. There are fiery tacos, fresh sausages, homemade pimento cheeses, bagels and breads, brisket with chili and cornbread, Asian and Indian temptations, and other tasty treats.

That evening we have dinner at Glasserie in Greenpoint. This former glassworks was significant during the 19th century for its celebrated cut glass. The walls of the restaurant are decorated with prints from the glassworks’ 19th century catalogues. Because Glasserie is noted for its large rustic suppers, I order the chicken with snow peas and pistachios. This is delicious, but prior to that we feast on griddled bread served with labneh (yogurt cheese) as well as tahini, hummus and harissa (a picante Middle Eastern condiment).

We end our evening by viewing the film “Chef,” a story of a washed-out father who finally makes his mark by opening up a food truck where he is able to spread his culinary “wings.”

The following day, we tour Bensonhurst with our guide Dom Gervasi of Made in Brooklyn Tours. Our first stop is Villabate Alba where we are treated to shatteringly crisp cannoli filled with fresh ricotta from Palermo – a great beginning to our tour. There are also sfogliatelli and Sicilian pastries creamy with marzipan.

Villabate Alba

Villabate Alba

At Pastosa Ravioli, we enjoy watching the white-clothed workers, pulling and stretching the dough in huge pasta machines. The flavors are endless. There is spinach pasta, lobster pasta, pasta made with squid ink, with tomatoes, pumpkin etc.

Several CGNE members at Lioni's.

Several CGNE members at Lioni’s.

Afterwards, in the shop of Lioni Italian Heroes, we marvel at the assortment of imported Italian olive oils, pastas, specialty meats and other prepared foods. Lioni offers over 150 types of hero sandwiches all named after famous Italians and Italian-Americans. In the shop, we are tempted to buy fresh artisanal prosciutto, roasted peppers, extra virgin olive oil and fresh breads. Before we leave, we are each given a full-size ball of the shop’s creamy mozzarella.

Later we visit Panino Rustico, where platters are overloaded with sumptuous Italian panini. One is of sopressata, tomato and arugula, and another of grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers and basil pesto.

Our visit concludes with a stop at the New Utrecht Reformed Church, which was organized by Dutch colonists in 1677. Among the settlers who used to worship here were members of the Benson family, buried in the church cemetery for whom this area is named.

Touring this area has really been a trip back in time as the neighborhood is a memory walk through a bubble of the past. It is a reminder of an Italian neighborhood of the 60’s and 70’s not unlike the one where I grew up. I treasure the historical and gastronomic adventures that I have had in Brooklyn. It is a colorful, vibrant, eclectic area that I encourage everybody to visit.

*Photos courtesy of Kris Piatt, CGNE President.

Making Mozzarella at Fiore Di Nonno

On March 4th, Guild members and friends met at Fiore Di Nonno in Somerville to see how a variety of cheeses are made. Lourdes Smith, owner of Fiore Di Nonno, and her team, taught us how to make mozzarella, burrata, and a slew of other fresh cheeses – just like Lourdes’ grandfather used to make.


Lourdes Smith.

Lourdes’ cheese has been taken to the James Beard Awards twice, and has received media attention in national outlets such as The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, to name a few.

Lourdes and her team make all of their cheeses by hand in small, delicious batches. Guild members were lucky enough to see the process up close, and we were even luckier to get to try everything that was made that evening.







Lourdes’ team of mozzarella-makers.

In this demo, we learned how to make – and tasted – Fiore Di Nonno’s mozzarella, string cheese, stracciatella, and burrata. We washed our samples down with some fresh bread and wine. It was a fantastic demo with great company and tasty bites!

To try Fiore Di Nonno’s cheeses for yourself, you can find Lourdes and her team at several farmers’ markets throughout Massachusetts, as well as at several stores and restaurants. (View the full list here).

*All photos courtesy of Jen Verrill from Verrill Farm.

Farm to Fork Dinner at Verrill Farm


What is better than a summer dinner full of farm-fresh treats? How about enjoying that dinner outside, on the farm itself, surrounded by friends?

Take a break from the city and come celebrate the bounty of summer with the Culinary Guild of New England and the AIWF (American Institute of Wine and Food) for a special Summer Harvest Farm to Fork Dinner out at Verrill Farm!

hayrideFirst, we will enjoy a pre-dinner tractor drawn hayride that will take us through the fields to get a closer look at the crops. Then comes dinner — which will showcase the seasonal and fresh produce grown on the farm. Dinner will also show-off the culinary talents of a few of the Culinary Guild board members as well, such as Verrill Farm chefs Guida Ponte and Jennifer Verrill and Guy Crosby of Cook’s Illustrated.

Just a heads up — our dinner will be held rain or shine and we will be sitting outside. So, please (pretty, pretty please) remember to dress for the weather!

Want to join us for dinner? RSVP now!

Can’t wait until our dinner to enjoy the produce of summer? Try this recipe now — straight from the farm!

Verrill Farm’s Corn and Tomato Tart

This recipe got rave reviews at Verrill Farm’s 2004 Corn & Tomato Festival!

  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion – chopped
  • 1 garlic clove – chopped
  • 5 ears corn – uncooked – kernels off
  • 1/4 cup smoked cheddar cheese – shredded
  • 1/2 pint “Sweet 100” cherry tomatoes (these are a small variety and left whole – other varieties may be substituted)
  • 3 scallions – chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  1. Sauté onions & garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add the corn & cook 5 – 10 minutes.
  2. Season with salt & pepper to taste and remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Add 1/2 of the corn mixture to the pie shell. Layer shredded cheese on top and add the remaining portion of the corn mixture.
  4. Put the cherry tomatoes & scallions on top.
  5. Whisk eggs, milk, and cream together with a pinch of salt and pour over tart.
  6. Bake at 375°F for 30 mins or until set.

Variation: Add chopped bacon and/or jalapeno to the tart for some extra kick.

Notes: You can use either a pre-made pie crust or make your own. If making your own pie crust, check out Verrill Farm’s recipe that fits a 9″ – 10″ ceramic pie pan.

A tart pan may also be used.

An Evening with King Arthur Flour

by Michelle Collins, CGNE member


On Monday evening, CGNE members, friends, and guests learned how to make pie dough from King Arthur Flour’s resident “pie queen,” Bonny Hooper. Hooper taught the sizeable crowd how to make an all-butter pie crust. The 90-minute demonstration – also led in part by King Arthur’s Marketing Manager, Julie Christopher – was informative and interactive.

The event was held at Everett High School’s brand-new Culinary Center, and we were treated to an impressive spread of bites for the CGNE crowd prepared by the culinary students. We munched on delights like Spanakopita, assorted mezze dips and spreads, cheese and crackers, and Lemon Mousse Shooters before and during the pie crust demonstration.

Food Spread combined

Hooper clearly knows her stuff when it comes to pie crust, and she taught us a lot of interesting and new-to-most-of-us information about the tricky dough. Some noteworthy lessons learned:

  • The most accurate way to measure your flour is using a food scale
  • If someone in your family can’t ingest butter, the butter in this recipe can be replaced with olive oil
  • Roll the dough with a rolling pin from the middle out, going in clockwise direction with each roll. This will keep the dough in a uniform shape and thickness
  • When rolling the dough, place a piece of plastic wrap between the dough and the rolling pin. This will result in not having to flour the dough as much, and you won’t have to flour the rolling pin at all

Hooper then filled her mile-high pie with King Arthur’s Apple Pie Filling (recipe below). We were all lucky enough to try a slice of the finished product, and it basically tasted like apple-filled, buttery heaven. The crust was delightfully chewy and flaky, and the apples were cooked to tender perfection. Tasting the pie was a fantastic way to end this fun and educational evening!


Apple Pie Filling

-8 cups sliced apples

-2 tablespoons lemon juice

-3/4 cup sugar

-2 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

-2 tablespoons cornstarch

-1/4 teaspoon salt

-1 teaspoon cinnamon

-1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

-1/4 teaspoon allspice

-1/4 cup boiled cider or undiluted apple juice concentrate

-2 tablespoons butter, diced in small pieces


In a large bowl, stir apple slices with lemon juice; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt, and spices. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples, and stir to coat them. Stir in the boiled cider or apple juice concentrate.  Spoon the apple filling into the pie pan (with bottom crust already in it). Dot the top with the diced butter, and cover with top pie crust. Place the pie on a parchment-linked baking sheet. Bake the pie for 20 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 40 minutes more, until you see the filling bubbling inside the pie.

Michelle is a CGNE member and a Boston-based freelance food writer and blogger, who is a big fan of eating well without spending a ton. Keep up with Michelle  on her site — The Economical Eater, on Twitter, and over at Local In Season.

Recipe: Rosemary Infused Olive Oil

by Janet Kalandranis, CGNE member

Cross-posted from Food Beautiful

So many parties, so many people on the list. I pretend to start my holiday shopping early, but I inevitably forget. Like when you forget to buy lemons at the store. I do that a lot too. And then there’s the whole situation of forgetting to put people on the list and those last-minute awkward present exchange situations (where you get something, but have nothing to give in return). Yeah, just smile and hug the other person, it’s less awkward that way. Trust me.

Or you can just have some of these babies on hand.

My heaven

Yes, that’s infused olive oil. The little gift that I made for every smiling guest at our wedding. I was hoping they would remember this gift in the future in case I ever forgot to buy a holiday gift. It was like a pre-gift.

And if I can make 150 of these in one day, you surely can make 10, have them on hand and distribute as needed. First, you MUST have a pretty (heat-proof) glass container. And then you are off and running

Rosemary Infused Olive Oil
Enough GOOD olive oil for each bottle
One rosemary sprig for each bottle

  • Heat olive oil over LOW heat. You’ll be tempted to turn it up, just eat chocolate instead. You want to heat it so you can still stick your finger in there and its warm but not boiling. (I have no way of telling you how to do this so let’s just pretend you’ll watch it for a bit)
  • Meanwhile place rosemary sprigs in each bottle.
  •  Once oil is heated either using a funnel (a kitchen one please) or a measuring cup (something with a spout) pour the heated olive oil into the containers. This infuses the oil with the rosemary flavor.
  • Wait for the oil to cool and close each bottle.

If stored in a nice cool place these can last for a couple of months. But let’s be honest, you’re going to want to take some crusty bread, yummy cheese and dip right in. Don’t you think?