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.
It's almost time for the Wellfleet OysterFest: October 18-19, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Hard to believe it's now in its 14th 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 and culminates with the finals on Sunday. Prizes will be awarded for the fastest shucker with the cleanest tray: 1st Place-$1,000, 2nd Place-$500, 3rd Place -$250.
Also this year: Jamie Bradley will be returning to defend his title as Oyster Eating Champion. Last year he slurped 24 oysters in 54 seconds. Can he beat his personal best? Come and cheer him on!
Returning this year for a third season as shucking competition judge, the incomparable John Baby from Toronto. I'm thrilled to announce that he and volunteer Shuck-Off coordinator Nancy Civetta have tapped me to be a judge at the competition this year! It's an honor and I'm looking forward to learning from a master judge. And enjoying the free beer too. (There's free beer, right?)
The 'OysterFest is produced by Wellfleet Shellfish Promotion and Tasting, or SPAT, a non-profit organization devoted to fostering a greater understanding of the town's shellfishing industry and made possible through collaboration with the Town of Wellfleet, the support of many sponsors, the area shellfishermen and dedicated volunteers. Admission is $5 for a one day ticket or $8 for a two pass. Children 12 and under are free.
Check the website for a list of all activities. Hope to see you there. If you're coming--send a note and let me know! email@example.com
The crowds arrived earlier than ever for the 13th annual Wellfleet OysterFest. Maybe it was the perfect fall weather, or the terrific arts and crafts booths lining the streets of town. That helped swell the numbers, I think, butT the real draw was the opportunity to eat the best damn oysters on the planet. Yeah, that.
Oysters for breakfast? Yes, please.
Toronto-based shucking judge John Baby and shucking competition coordinator Nancy Civetta before the competition.
The first competitors took the stage about 1 p.m. Twenty-two shuckers competed in 11 heats in front of a crowd estimated to be over 10,000.
Beer sales were brisk!
2012 champion shucker James Gray goes for two-in-a-row win.
Two time shucking champion Barbara Austin had support from the cheering crowd.
Emcees Eric Williams and Mac Hay banter between heats.
Paul Suggs raises arms high after speedily opening 24 oysters. But speed isn’t the only thing that determines who wins; aesthetic presentation counts, too, with penalties added for broken shells, cut oysters, grit, and blood from slashed fingers.
In judging tent, oysters are meticulously and anonymously checked for deviations from perfection.
Tomorrow, 10 shuckers will compete for the $1,000 first prize and bragging rights for a year.
Crowds scarfed down oysters before, during and after the competition.
Sincere apologies for the photo-heavy post. This blogger's typing hand was seriously injured last night...putting out a fire! However, I hear oysters help the healing process.
Wow. Toronto is an awesome town for eating oysters. I’m not talking about your standard buck-a-shuck plate (though I never turn those down). I’m talking about high-quality, boutique bivalves expertly shucked and served in a variety of establishments from homey and casual to slick and shiny.
My guide for the three-day oyster-eating extravaganza in Canada’s largest city was chef and oyster shucking judge extraordinaire John Baby (pronounced ‘Babby’). He generously squired me around town—to 11 destinations—and introduced me to almost everyone in the biz. I had previously met a few of Toronto’s World Oyster Opening champs, in my travels to competitions in Charlottetown, Tyne Valley, Miami Beach and Galway, and it was great to reconnect and visit their restaurants and oyster bars. Oyster people are a generous, competitive, fun loving lot, and I’m happy to have met more new friends. And a learned something too: The oyster biz is booming and growers are having a tough time keeping up with demand. What that means for the future is hard to say.
FIRST STOP: DIANA'S SEAFOOD
A thirty-minute drive north and east of town, Diana’s is a family-run seafood market--founded in the 1970’s--operates a separate seafood restaurant (in a former donut shop!) in front. Did I gasp when entering the market? Possibly. I’ve ever seen so many oysters from so many different places in one location. Check out this wall of cases oysters!
According to GM Chris Pipergias, whose parents started the business, the wall houses anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 oysters. (I immediately began scheming—unsuccessfully—about ways I could sneak a case home.) Pipergias estimates he buys 85,000 oysters a week for his retail shop and wholesale clients, offering between 20 and 40 varieties every day.
We tasted three straight out of the case: Eel Lake from Nova Scotia (sweet, fat, not too salty); wild Belons from Maine—a personal favorite—(pungent, metallic finish);
and Shigoku, a gigas species from Washington State (small, plump, zinc and cucumber with huge finish).
Pipergias, who watches trends, predicts that in the next five years “oyster prices will skyrocket, if not double” due to interest from the Chinese market. His shipments arrive on Thursday and Friday, and customers line up out the door.
“The demand for Canadian oysters has gone through the roof,” he said. Yikes! Better eat more oysters now.
Before leaving we stopped by Diana’s Oyster Bar and Grill, a sleek and comfortable space, for a light late lunch. We didn’t want to eat too much as more oysters were on our agenda.
(Diana’s, 2101 Lawrence Ave E., 416-288-9286, www.dianasseafood.com)
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.