Behind the scenes at our Food Over 50 kitchen studio we have 6, commercial-grade chrome racks, each with half a dozen 4-foot shelves. This is in addition to the hutch and racks that are on-set. Together, that makes for a heck of a lot of storage space, almost all of which is stuffed with pots and pans, trays and platters, glassware, salad bowls, small appliances and a variety of international cooking gadgets and vintage food styling accessories. However, there is one thing that does not fit on any of the storage racks. The giant clamshell resides on the floor, because it's far too big and heavy!
The large and decorative shells of Tridacna Gigas, which is more commonly known as the Giant Clam, have long been prized in the culinary world for displaying seafood salads amidst grand buffets. Back in the early-to-mid '70s, when I worked in the kitchens at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, six of these hefty shells were part of the hotel's "Batterie du Cuisine." I know because I was the youngest cook with the strongest back. Guess who was ordered to transport and lift them into position for the food displays? Empty, they weighed approximately 150 pounds apiece and believe me, they were awkward to pick up and carry!
My Tridacna Gigas shell was acquired the same way I've found much of the show's favorite cookware and food styling gear over the years. I scrounge flea markets and estate sales. It's about average in size, 28" across and 120 pounds in weight. I spied it in a corner of a shop, covered in dust and half buried by other odds and ends. I bought it for $200, which was an outright steal. Real giant clamshells go for $1,000 and up very easily. Molded artificial "designer" shells are readily available at lower prices, but they aren't the real thing and usually not food safe. The authentic shells are somewhat rare. For centuries the huge abductor muscle of these brute mollusks has been prized both for its aphrodisiac properties and as a culinary delicacy in Japan, China and a multitude of other Asian and Indonesian countries.
In the final episode of our first series of Food Over 50, "Eating Away At Inflammation," the clamshell is used in the introductory segment to display the salmon, shrimp and scallops used for our Mixed Seafood Grill recipe. And nothing has changed since my Caesar's Palace days! Though I'm not exactly young and strong anymore, guess who had to muscle the shell into position on the island cook top before we rolled the cameras!