Dave Belanger, known to many as “Clammer Dave,” earned both his nickname and reputation by having some of the most meticulous mollusks in the biz. That’s why renowned restaurants from Husk, Fig, McCrady’s, and Hank’s in Charleston all the way to Del Posto in New York choose his products. TLP sat down with Dave to check in on post-Hurricane Joaquin business and learn more about the craft behind his delicious clams and oysters.
TLP: How did the recent flooding in South Carolina affect your business?
It closed us down and we’re still closed. I expect probably until the first of November. Everything has lived through it that I’ve looked at. I just had one of my clam farmers call me from up in McClellanville. He’s 78 years old and brings in just as much as a 30 year old. He was telling me, “I’m going crazy!”… He even said, “I even went fishing the other day!” And clam farmers never fish because they’re normally out there working on the water and he’s out there just to get his “creek fix” as he said.
TLP: Are the restaurants being impacted as well?
All the other states are open so they’ve been able to buy other oysters, but not ours. Since we’ve never had this much water before no one really knows how long it’ll be before it cleans up. In Asheville, Katie Button, chef at Nightbell and Cúrate, sent me an email that said “Keep us posted. It’s become very apparent how superior your product is here lately. Looking forward to getting them back as soon as they’re ready.” So they had to just go out on the market and probably went through a big distributor to get clams. That’s pretty much what every customer would say. We have clams, but we don’t have yours.
TLP: How long does the entire clamming process take?
We plant the clams as little tiny things and that’s three years to grow them out. And the oysters are harvested wild then they go in cages for about six weeks to fatten up. So that’s six weeks roundtrip and clams three years.
TLP: What makes your method different than other operations?
When we harvest them from the mud we have a contraption that floats out there and holds the baskets of oysters at the surface for a minimum of three days. What that does is completely purges them of any grit and replaces it with just pure algae. So people tell me it’s sweeter, cleaner, saltier…We also handle them differently in the processing plant. They don’t go through machinery, they’re all hand selected and pressure washed. Each one of the oysters are weighed individually and graded in four different grades. The chefs, my customers, want uniformity. They want them to be on a plate and the visual to be striking. Nobody else does that. So that’s why they got such a big following I think. The chef doesn’t really have to do anything to them other than a light rinse.
TLP: What’s your favorite way to cook clams?
My favorite clam recipe is actually steamed clams. The Italian way with olive oil and white wine and garlic and parsley. Cracked pepper. Simple.