It's the perfect day for a swim. Surfers line the horizon, taking advantage of a rare offshore wind that shapes the waves into long, perfect curls. But today, a group of us are kept ashore by other temptations: namely, a crate of live lobsters and littleneck clams. It is a sunny late-summer afternoon on a beach on the southern shore of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Some friends and I are here for a clambake hosted by my sister Amanda Lydon and her fiancé, Gabriel Frasca, chefs and managing partners of Straight Wharf Restaurant.
Several energetic guests dig a pit while Amanda and Gabriel carry rocks the size of human heads and more than four dozen hardwood logs from their truck. Friends and members of the Straight Wharf family, like waitress Chrystyna Kassaraba and bartender Kate Pelletier, fill shallow pans with the littlenecks and lobsters, potatoes, corn, chorizo and onions.
When the pit is two feet deep, the crew lines it with the rocks, then piles on the logs to start a bonfire. Once the wood has burned down to coals, the clam-filled pans are stacked in the pit between layers of rockweed, then covered snugly with three layers of damp canvas. It's an impressive feat that leaves everyone laughing and slightly breathless. Chrystyna's boyfriend passes out mason jars full of pale, icy Thai-basil sangria and tart tarragon lemonade. Amanda offers creamy smoked bluefish pâté on a tray with melba toasts, fresh sugar snap peas, radishes and cherry tomatoes as we wait for the clams to bake. The coals and rocks will create a smoldering oven in the sand, and we have some time to kill before that oven will cook the contents of the pans.