The 20th Wellfleet OysterFest may have been cancelled due to Covid concerns, but you can still cheer for your favorite shucker this year at the first-ever Virtual All-Star Shuck Off. In the spirit of the Shucking-Show-Must-Go-On, the local non-profit Wellfleet Promotion and Tasting organization (S.P.A.T.) will broadcast a two-hour shucking extravaganza with cooking tips from celebrity chef hosts Ming Tsai, Jamie Bissonette and Elle Simone Scott; music events filmed at scenic Wellfleet locales; two short films about the town's deep history as the heart of America's oyster growing community; and more.
The online gala will culminate with a reimagining of the festival's most popular event--the oyster shucking competition--showcasing ten legendary shuckers from the past 19 years going head to head for the ultimate crown: Wellfleet's all-time greatest, best of the best, all-star oyster shucker. The team of 3 judges include Toronto's own super-star John Baby, and returning Wellfleet all-stars Mike May and yours truly, accompanied by tabulator-supreme, Nik Watkins.
Mark your calendars for the event, streamed on the internet at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday October 17th from the Wellfleet Harbor Actor's Theater. Free! YouTube Channel linked HERE.
The Oysterman of Mazatlan
Jim made friends today with Antonio, a guy who dives for oysters off Olas Altas beach in Mazatlan, Mexico.
You'd be forgiven if you can't distinguish between the oysters and rocks. These gnarly creatures look much like the rocks they grow on along the edge of the bay. Antonio uses the inner tube as a marker that floats on the surface--to let boats know he's down below--from which he hangs a net to hold the oysters. He then he dives to where the oysters are clustered using flippers and a snorkel. He carries a spike that weighs about 25 pounds, like a diver's weight, and uses it to pry the beasts off their undersea perches, The spike is tied to a string. When he has oysters in hand, he leaves the spike on the bottom, swims to the surface, and tosses the oysters in the net. When he's finished, he hangs on the inner tube and uses the string to lift the spike up from the bottom.
Antonio cleans and separates the oysters by whacking them with a hammer. He tells us there are tons of oysters out on the rocks beneath the water. He sells them to local restaurants. And he sold some to us. $4 for a dozen--though in a way that's a high price because at Playa Los Pintos, another beach slightly north of us, you can sit at a table and get a dozen shucked for $5. Obviously, though, the guy earned his four bucks!
Though it's not easy (for me) to imagine...these are Crassostrea gigas, Pacific oysters. We had some yesterday at the beach and they're crunchy, salty and had a minerally finish. Of course I'm not certain of the exact spot of yesterday's harvest. These may taste different. Will keep you posted once we crack them open!
The oysters are harder to open than most. These wild oysters are irregularly shaped with a lot of marine growth on the shells. The way the locals open one is to hammer the lip until it breaks enough to create a small hole to insert a knife. This makes it impossible to open the oyster cleanly without a ton of debris getting on the meat. On the beach, they wash them in salt water, adding an extra salty taste. Jim tried to avoid rinsing them, so we could taste the actual oyster. They are very firm and crunchy, and still salty and a little sweet. The surprise in this batch was the strong metallic finish, as strong as a Belon. If you're a fan of European Flats, as I am, you'll love these beasts. And look at the inside of the shells! Amazingly pearlescent.
Wellfleet Shuck Off Results 2018
It was a close race to be Numero Uno in the Wellfleet OysterFest 2018 Shuck off! Here's a video of the final tense moments as the results were announced. Congrats to all the shuckers! #1. William "Chopper" Young; #2. Steve Boreen #3. Calen Bricault See you all next year!
Wellfleet OysterFest 2018
It's OysterFest time in Wellfleet! So thrilled to be one of the judges again this year for the thrill-a-minute shucking competition! Hopefully the rain will stop in time for all the additional fun activities, including the fine arts & craft fair, educational lectures and oyster grant walking tours, 5k road race, marine-themed spelling bee, family friendly activities and live music. Make sure you arrive hungry for oysters, more oysters, and also Wellfleet clams, chowder and other goodies such as fish tacos, clam cakes, jerk ribs, conch fritters, lobster rolls, Portuguese kale soup, grilled sausage, plus beer, coffee, muffins, cookies, brownies and other sweets, all offered by local restaurants. See the full schedule HERE: https://wellfleetspat.org/wellfleet-oysterfest-homepage/
Wellfleet OysterFest 2017
It's almost time for the Wellfleet OysterFest! October 14-15, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Hard to believe it's now in its 17th year!) Hope you are all coming out for this gala weekend extravaganza featuring oysters, oysters, more oysters, and also Wellfleet clams, chowder and other goodies such as fish tacos, clam cakes, jerk ribs, conch fritters, lobster rolls, Portuguese kale soup, grilled sausage, plus beer, coffee, muffins, cookies, brownies and other sweets, all offered by local restaurants. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Of course the OysterFest is about more than just food. There's a fine arts & craft fair with over 86 participating artisans, educational lectures and walking tours, 5k road race, tennis, family friendly activities, live music and entertainment, and--my personal fave--the Oyster Shuck-Off. The preliminary competition starts on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m., and culminates with the finals on Sunday (also 1 p.m.). Prizes will be awarded for the fastest shucker with the cleanest tray: 1st Place-$1,000, 2nd Place-$500, 3rd Place -$250. I am honored to serve as a judge again, along with Canadian pal John Baby and Wellfleet resident Mike May.
Recap: 2017 PEI Shellfish Festival
The final oysters have been shucked and last balloons have popped. It's the end of another fantastic year at the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival. I don't have the stats, but it seemed like thousands attended over the weekend of September 14-17.
The festivities kicked off Thursday evening with the Feast & Frolic event, an evening of food and entertainment hosted by Chef Chuck Hughes that included--along with a Mussels Bar and Potato Bar--an all-you-can-eat Oyster Bar featuring 22 unique oyster varieties across the island. All you can eat! (And I did.)
As if that wasn't enough, the sit down dinner served 420 very happy guests who chowed down on an amazing feast orchestrated by Chef Irwin Mackinnon of Papa Joe's fame. (He delivered piping hot food--including lobsters, steak, baked stuffed potatos and vegetable skewers--out to the entire crown in under 9 minutes!)
Friday, Saturday and Sunday featured cooking demonstrations by celebrity Chef Lynn Crawford, the Tie One On Mussel Competition, the Garland Canada International Chef Challenge, the Potato Seafood Chowder Competition (of which I was honored to be a judge), the Mott's Clamato "Best Caesar" competition, the PEI Shellfisherman Association's creation of the "World's Longest Lobster Roll" (over 200-feet!), live entertainment, and not one but TWO oyster shucking competitions.
The first shuck-off, on Friday night, featured the best on-island shuckers, including Jason Woodside and Bradley Gallant. On Saturday, a local-plus-international roster included competitive shucking luminaries such as Eamon Clark of Toronto, Daniel Notkin of Montreal, and American Robert Daffin, who travels from Panama City, Florida each year with Carolee Ann Carlson-Harper, know to everyone as "Mama."
The joint was packed when the shuckers took the stage for the Saturday night heats. I captured the second to last heat of the competition between Daniel Notkin and Robert Daffin, and posted it to YouTube. The emcee is the always-entertaining Rob Barry. If you've never been to a shucking competition, this video gives a sense of the electricity in the room and the intensity of the competitors. (As well as the rollicking good time had by all.)
The winner of the competition, announced after all the penalties had been tabulated, was Daniel Notkin. Geek stats: 12 oysters shucked in flat time 51 and 65/100 seconds, plus 6 penalty seconds added totaling 57 and 65/100 seconds.
On a reflective note, this past year shucker and oyster farmer Marlene Dowdle lost her valiant fight with cancer. Her husband, George Dowdle, decided to award a $1,000 prize in her honor to the fastest female shucker at this year's festival. Every woman competitor was given a tee shirt that Marlene herself had designed. At the end of the shucking events, the Marlene Dowdle Award for Fastest Shucker went to Melissa Somers. A women's cleanest plate award, donated by Chef Chuck Hughes, went to Coreen Pickering. George Dowdle, his son Cole, and daughter Britteny, were on the stage to hand out the etched glass trophy. You can read more about the Marlene, the Dowdle family and the award in a CBC News story HERE.
Thanks to the wonderful community of PEI for hosting such a terrific event. Fellow shellfish lovers: Mark your calendars for next year's edition of the PEI International Shellfish Festival, September 13-16, 2018!
PEI Shellfish Festival 2017!
Oysters! Mussels! Music! The port city of Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island is gearing up for its annual International Shellfish Festival, a four-day extravaganza filled with culinary delights and rocking live entertainment. (Sept. 14-17). I'm thrilled to be participating as a judge in some of the seafood tasting competitions.
I'm especially happy to be in town when shellfisherman George Dowdle --of the most delicious Green Gables Oysters --inaugurates a new all-women shucking competition in memory of his wife Marleen. If you haven't signed up to compete, it might not be too late!
Highlights include cooking demonstrations, a big band party, Mott’s Clamato best Caesar cocktail contest, Tie-One-On mussel industry competition, chowder championships, oyster shucking competitions, and more. Day pass: $15; weekend pass $33. http://peishellfish.com/en/
So...apparently this is a thing! Gotta love this report about oyster farmers on the Île de Ré who are using refrigerated vending machines to promote sales of the shellfish. Kinda like the Automats in NYC in days of yore. Anyone remember those? To see the video click HERE.
August 5 is National Oyster Day! With that in mind, I want to share my new favorite ergonomic shucking knife, PUT 'EM BACK™ by Toadfish Outfitters, a manufacturer of oyster knives and fishing products out of Charleston, SC .
The thing I love about the knife, other than it's wonderful to hold and is a stylish blue, is that the company is eco-active, meaning it is dedicated to protecting the saltwater environment and keeping it healthy, and educating customers to better understand the cause and effect of over-harvesting versus replenishment.
I'm not the only one in the house who loves this knife. "It's an awesome shucking tool with nice opening leverage and clean cuts inside the oyster." said Jim Gilbert, my personal live-in shucker who kindly opened these Wellfleet oysters for the photo shoot.
Founded by Casey Davidson,Toadfish is committed to donating a portion of its earnings to coastal preservation and oyster reclamation. For every product sold, Toadfish plants 10 square feet of oyster beds and to date has planted approximately 2600 square feet of beds.
Additionally, Toadfish has partnered with the Coastal Conservation Association of South Carolina and has recently donated twenty thousand dollars to the organization's habitat efforts. With a motto of "shuck, recycle, rebuild," Toadfish strives to live its mission of being a good corporate citizen.
Check it out! PUT 'EM BACK™ Oyster Knife $38.
Toadfish Outfitters, 813 Weir Street, Charleston, SC
Oyster News from Scotland
One of my favorite species--Ostrea Edulis--aka the native European flat--is being introduced into the waters around Scotland for the first time in more than 100 years.
According to BBC News, overfishing caused the European flat to become extinct in most areas around the coast of Scotland in the 18th century. Today, the food industry around the country mainly farms non-native oysters.
This is now changing as "a team from Heriot-Watt University has returned 300 natives to the Dornoch Firth as part of a water-purifcation project. If the oysters survive, the plan is to create a reef covering four hectares."
Here's hoping they survive and thrive! Read more of the story--and see a video of the project--HERE.
I grew up spending part of every summer in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, which included eating many oysters. After stumbling into an oyster shucking competition in Miami Beach in 2006, I’ve become a fan of the sport and have written about local, national, and international competitions for the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, American Way Magazine, and the Huffington Post. I've also written oyster-centric stories for Rustik and Modern Farmer. I’ve never met an oyster I didn’t want to eat.