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!
Oyster and seafood festivals kick into high gear this season, and in addition to great eats there’s always high drama at the shucking competitions where speed must be matched with perfectionism. Cut an oyster or leave grit in the shell and penalties will ruin a quick time. Shells are sure to fly when the pros take the stage at these events, armed with custom made knives, to compete for glory and sometimes cash. How many will you attend? Three, two, one: SHUCK!
CANADA: 5th Annual Montreal Oysterfest—September 8, 1-9 p.m.
The 5th Annual Montreal Oysterfest is a culinary celebration of beautiful bivalves. The extravaganza features oysters handpicked by the Old Port Fishing Company; food prepared by the town’s top chefs; food-related products, crafts and books; the Mott’s Clamato Caesar Throwdown; and a highly-competitive shucking contest. It’s all happening in a new location this year: Terrasses Bonsecours, a moated island in the heart of Old Port. Mais oui! (Photo by Riccardo Cellere) http://mtloysterfest.com/
CANADA: 17th Annual PEI International Shellfish Festival-- September 12-15
An enormous white tent hosts thousands of foodies who flock to the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival, a four-day event packed with culinary demos, celebrity chefs, chowder championships, and oyster shucking competitions. (In a new location this year: the Charlottetown Event Grounds on the corner of Water and Grafton Street.) I don’t know who’ll be showing up to shuck, though you might meet “Oyster Bob” from Vancouver, current Canadian champ Mike Langley, Toronto chef, Patrick McMurray, and Montreal’s Daniel Notkin. Sample all the PEI shellfish you can eat. Live music all day and night. www.peishellfish.com
IRELAND: 59th Annual Galway International Oyster Festival—September 26-29
The crème de la crème of shuckers from America to Singapore compete for the world title at the World Oyster Shucking Championship in Galway. (This year the U.S. will be represented by Robert Daffin from Panama City, Florida.) Party the Irish way at this four-day gala event that starts with a shuck-off to determine the Irish competitor. The medieval city is a striking backdrop for the non-stop events including sumptuous buffets, a parade with pom pom-shaking young colleens, live music, Irish step dancing, Guinness galore, dancing on chairs, and the crowning of the new world champ. www.galwayoysterfest.com
USA: 13th Annual Wellfleet OysterFest—October 19-20
Now in its 13th year, the Wellfleet OysterFest has grown into a 2-day street fair where thousands flock to slurp down succulent bivalves and sample chowder and other specialties prepared by local restaurants. In addition to its famous oysters, Wellfleet is home to shellfisherman William “Chopper” Young, two-time national shucking champion, and the first American to win the internationals in Galway (2008) in 32 years. Other activities include live entertainment, a 5k race, cooking demos, arts and crafts, and lectures on the marine environment.
USA: 47th Annual St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival—October 19-20
Leonardtown, Maryland hosts this two-day extravaganza on the third weekend of October. The shucking competition attracts those who vie to claim the title as best in the nation, and win the grand prize ticket to Galway, Ireland for the international championship. In true country-fair tradition, there are arts and crafts, a livestock barn, entertainment tent, historic displays, amusement park, and the National Oyster Cook Off. Enjoy oyster chowder, grilled oysters, raw oysters, Maryland ham, BBQ beef, and deep-fried funnel cake. http://usoysterfest.com/
USA: 50th Annual Florida Seafood Festival—November 1-2
Kellie Pickler is headlining this year’s Florida Seafood Festival in Apalachicola, but the true stars are the shuckers who’ll open eighteen Apalachicola Bay oysters and compete to win a spot in the national competition in 2014. Weekend festivities also feature an oyster-eating contest, blue crab races, a parade with bands and floats, a blessing of the fleet, 5k road race, fireworks and more. www.floridaseafoodfestival.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.