Bistro V’s Jeremy Downey Talks Gulf Heritage, Holiday Seafood (Interview)

Fresh Gulf seafood doesn’t get put on hold when the weather gets cold.

Especially in South Alabama, where Jeremy Downey comes from. Seafood was a part of every family celebration for this Bayou La Batre native—and a healthy way for this former Alabama football player to stay in shape. Now, Downey incorporates his Gulf seafood heritage into the dishes he creates on a daily basis at Birmingham’s Bistro V.

We sat down with Jeremy to talk about holiday seafood, health benefits, and why Alabama Gulf Seafood is the best around.

Was seafood a part of your family’s holiday traditions when you were growing up?

Bayou La Batre is the heart and soul of seafood in the south. We had seafood at every family function, and a lot of the food was caught by a relative the day before or that day. We always had gumbo, either seafood or chicken and oyster. My uncle and dad competed for the best recipe and we also had crab pie, raw oysters, oyster dressing, shrimp salad, shrimp dip, crab meat, crab meat squash casserole, and fried shrimp and oysters. This was a typical Christmas dinner at my grandmother’s, and we had more seafood at my parents’ for later.

Many folks think of seafood as a warm-weather meal. Why should we eat seafood during the wintertime, and what are some of your favorite cold-weather seafood dishes?

I like to eat seafood soups in the winter months, whether it’s gumbo, cioppino, oyster stew, shrimp curry, Vietnamese pho, or étouffée. I cook whole fish at home like Red Snapper and stuff it with herbs and lemons and make a livornese style topping for it. You bake it for 25 to 30 minutes and the sauce is put on in the last 15. It’s very healthy and can serve 8 to 10 people.

What should we keep in mind if we’re throwing a holiday party with Gulf seafood?

Always keep it at the right temperature, and ice it if it’s going to be served the next day. It’s a delicate and precious thing the world is blessed to have, so treat it with respect.

The week of Christmas is the busiest week for seafood sales in America. Do you think Alabama has an advantage when it comes to cooking with seafood during the holidays?

Alabama has the best seafood in the country, and it goes to the whole country. I have seen crabmeat and oysters from Bayou La Batre in a Washington D.C. restaurant where I worked. The Gulf has the greatest variety and best product in the country.

What sort of seafood dishes do you offer on the menu at Bistro V, and what inspired you to use Alabama Gulf Seafood in these dishes?

I now own Bistro V, and my menu is filled with seafood from the Gulf including fried oysters, fried shrimp, shrimp and grits, lobster ravioli, fish of the day, shrimp and crab risotto, crab cakes, and seafood soups. This is all Gulf Coast product, and I am proud to support the people who get it to me and respect the effort and work that it takes to be in the seafood industry.

When New Year’s resolutions roll around, lots of folks resolve to lose weight. How can Alabama Gulf Seafood help them achieve these goals?

I think it’s the perfect food and I eat it everyday. I encourage anyone who wants a healthy lifestyle to put it in their diet. A piece of fish with fresh herbs and lemon is delicious and very healthy. Also, mixing in Mediterranean components to fish dishes—such as olives, capers, olive oil, anchovies, artichokes, and San Marzano tomatoes—can really be a healthy lifestyle choice.

Any further holiday seafood recommendations or advice you have for us?

Serve it everyday, buy local from a reputable place, look for the Gulf tag of freshness, and remember to be thankful for the people who get it to us.