Chef Eric Doarnberger has learned to love oysters.
From Early Terror to Ostreaphile
Eric Doarnberger, executive chef of Swan Terrace Restaurant at The Founders Inn in Virginia Beach, laughs when he remembers the first time he faced a raw oyster. He was a young boy living outside of Baltimore. “My family used to buy a bushel of oysters and just shuck and eat them,” says the tall, freckled chef with a boyish grin. “One day we were having a party, and it started to rain. We ran into the garage. There was lightning and thunder, rain and hail. I was scared to death.” Not just because of the storm, he remembers, but because he knew he would have to eat a raw oyster.
There in front of everyone, Doarnberger’s “old-school” Polish grandfather held up a meaty specimen, dripping with oyster juices. Somehow the young boy managed to choke it down, never imagining that one day he would grow up to become an ostreaphile. Now he calls himself a “big fan of oysters” and eats them every chance he gets.
While living on the West Coast, Doarnberger tried all the Pacific varieties, but Eastern oysters are near and dear to his heart. He loves Lynnhaven oysters. “They’re huge—surprisingly mild and smooth with a bit of brine at the end,” he says. “An exceptional mouthful, but worth it.”
Doarnberger never planned to become a chef. “My mom made me,” he says, chuckling. “I graduated high school and wasn’t doing anything. My mom said I had to get out of the house. … There was an apprenticeship program at the vocational school.” And that’s how his culinary career began.
Now, after stints in North Carolina and Wyoming, Doarnberger is receiving accolades as executive chef at Swan Terrace, a position he took in February. He’s been at the restaurant since 2004 and has worked every job in the kitchen. “It puts things in perspective when you’ve done everyone’s job,” he says. “I really like the camaraderie here.”
While the chef prefers raw oysters in the nude (“no mignonette, no lemon, no cocktail sauce”), he says Lynnhavens would be well suited for Swan Terrace’s signature appetizer, Terrace Oysters.
Swan Terrace at The Founders Inn and Spa – 5641 Indian River Road, Virginia Beach; FoundersInn.com or (757) 424-5511