TV food star visits mussel family


Staff reporter

As the owners of one of the few such farms in the United States, the Jefferds family of Coupeville was able to step up to the plate when Bobby Flay of the cable television show Food Nation breezed through the area with a hankerin’ for mussels.

Brothers Rawle and Ian Jefferds, co-owners of Penn Cove Shellfish Co., along with Rawle’s wife Laura, a pastry chef, are featured in a half-hour segment of the show, which is set to air for the first time on July 16.

Also featured in the segment is the biggest preparer and server of Penn Cove mussels in the world, Toby’s Tavern, which is located on the waterfront in downtown Coupeville.

Toby’s serves as much as 200 pounds of mussels per week during the winter and up to 350 pounds per week during the summer months, said Rawle Jefferds.

“Toby’s runs phenominal numbers with mussels,” Jefferds said.

Toby’s manager attributes the mussels’ popularity with diners to two reasons.

“”I think first of all it’s the way they’re prepared and second of all it’s the location,” said Gary Sims, manager. Diners can enjoy their Penn Cove mussles while seated at a table with a view of the farm when the shellfish are raised.

It’s that farm on which Food Nation focused some of its attention.

Rawle and Laura Jefferds’ yard was transformed by the show’s production people into the setting of a mussel cookout party when the show was taped April 8.

“They insisted on a mussel beach party,” Rawle Jefferds said during a recent interview from the couple’s home, overlooking Penn Cove. Jefferds said he followed instructions and set up tables and a mussel cooker, then the TV crew came in and arranged everything a different way.

“It was fun,” Rawle said. “I got to cook with the famous Bobby Flay.”

The mussel-cooking party capped off the day of taping. Earlier, Jefferds gave Flay a tour of the mussel farm, a part of the show narrated by Ian Jefferds.

“We showed him what we do with the mussels and how we farm them,” Rawle Jefferds said.

Flay and his camera crew paid a visit to Laura Jefferds in the kitchen of the couple’s home. There she prepared a loganberry pie, each step of the procedure captured on videotape.

Rawle and Ian Jefferds’ father, Peter, started the mussel farm in Penn Cove in 1975 when he retired from the Army.

“He established a market for mussels in North America,” Rawle Jefferds said.

Rawle and Ian set out to pursue individual career interests but were called back to the farm in 1986 when their father announced that he wanted to sell the business. Rawle and Ian took it over.

“Penn Cove is the number one mussel-producing area in the nation,” Rawle Jefferds said. Now, the company sells “a million or better” pounds of mussels per year.

The Jefferds brothers established relationships with airlines and shipping companies to enable them to ship mussels anywhere in the country overnight. Farm employees can pull mussels out of the water at 4:30 in the afternoon and the shipment can be at the airport by 6 the next morning.

“You could have mussels for dinner (tonight) in Florida or Chicago or New York that were pulled out of the water yesterday,” Jefferds said. “Everything we sell is harvested to order. Literally.”

Penn Cove Shellfish also distributes clams and oysters in 26 varieties. Though a successful business, the Food Nation appearance is the first time it may have the opportunity to become famous.

“This is the biggest exposure we’ve ever gotten,” Jefferds said. “This is a national show.”

Both Rawle and Laura Jefferds say their experience taping the show is one they won’t soon forget.

“(Bobby Flay) was a great guest of the farm and a great host of the show,” Jefferds said.

Where the mussels grow

For a virtual tour of the mussel farm and for mussel recipe ideas, visit the Penn Cove Shellfish Co. Web site at

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