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!
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/
Thrilled to share my story about the Canadian oyster shucking National Championship, available online--for free!-- in this month's TraveLife Magazine! Read the story HERE. See page 32. Happy reading and slurping!
Happy Oysterlicious New Year!
If anyone happens to be visiting Charleston, S.C. this year, make sure you visit The Ordinary, a must-visit “fancy seafood/oyster hall” located in a renovated, spacious and elegant old bank building.
I loved everything about this place: the ambiance (casual and elegant); the service (friendly but not intrusive); and the simple yet creative menu featuring cold and hot small seafood plates, salads, soups and three large plates and—of course--oysters. It would not be an exaggeration to say—after tasting the grilled octopus with potato, eggplant and Meyer lemon—that I lusted for every item on the menu.
We settled in at six-seat marble oyster bar in the far end of the restaurant where, behind the shuckers, one can see into the kitchen through the doors of the former bank vault.
We ordered a cocktail, and eyed a familiar selection of bivalves from NS (Wallace Bay); PEI (Summerside); MA (Honeysuckle, Katama Bay); and ME (Pemaquid) nestled on crushed ice. We were most intrigued by two additional offerings from SC, Caper’s Blades, and Coosaw Cups.
We sampled a selection of each—all perfectly shucked—and were most surprised by the SC offerings.
The Coosaw Cups were meaty and sweet with a light brine start and long slight-iron finish.
Equally yummy—and perhaps my fave—were the Caper’s Blades. Check out these beautiful, elongated shells! Nicely salty and sweet, the finish was earthy and funky with hints of seaweed. Our first-class shucker, whose name I sadly neglected to write down, provided some background info on these tasty bivalves.
Located just northeast of Charleston, at Caper’s Inlet on the Isle of Palms, a guy named “Clammer Dave” farms clams and oysters. Nearby tidal bays and creeks add the distinctive “merrior” flavor to the meat.
From the website:
“Oysters grow in clusters in elongated shells, locally known as "Blades". Sustainable cultivation is simply removing the large ones and always leaving the small. Hand harvested, they are uniquely reduced to singles by a method of chisel and stone…in continuation of the sustainable practice dating back 300 years.”
After harvest, clams and oysters are held in floating racks in the highly oxygenated surface water to purge grit from the shell and stomach. The last step in the process involves a pressure wash before they hand graded and packed for shipping.
At some point I’d love to visit this farm and check out the operations. Until then, I’ll keep an eye out for Caper’s Coves on future oyster expeditions.
(The Ordinary, 554 King St., Charleston, SC, 843-414-7060)
Oh boy, Oyster Boy. Even though I’m writing in my apartment in sunny Miami Beach, I’m wishing I were in your cozy 45-seat storefront, sitting at the long chopping block wood bar—or one of the matching tall tables—in Toronto slurping some fine Canadian oysters.
Oyster Boy may be small but its dedication of oysters is enormous. (“Mollusks for the Masses” is their slogan.) They offer a small, select and changing variety of oysters daily, harvested from sustainable sources on both coasts of Canada.
“We don’t have a large selection but we have really good ones,” said owners Adam Colquhoun, who opened the place on Queen Street West with John Petcoff—back when “there was nothing” much else happening in the neighborhood.
Our choices that afternoon were four from Prince Edward Island (Cascumpec Bay, Oyster Boy Malpeques, Colville Bay, Cooke's), and two from New Brunswick (St. Simon, La Caraquette). Oyster Boy prices them not only by place of origin but also by size: choice, medium and large. I hadn’t seen this done quite like this before—and it makes perfect sense.
“It gives the consumer an idea that the longer the oyster stays in the water, the more it costs,” said Colquhoun.
Oyster Boy buys its product directly from the men and women who fish. “We’re friends with our growers. We express joy and support,” said Colquhoun.
My visit was on the early side of evening, before the crowds arrived. I had a chance to chat with Sam Ravenda, jewelry designer and oyster shucker, who showed me an ab-fab tee shirt THAT I WANT.
“Our customers love this place because the staff are enjoying themselves. It’s all about respect,” said Colquhoun.
(Oyster Boy, 872 Queen St W, 416-534-3432, http://www.oysterboy.ca/)
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.