• categories

Oyster EventsJune 5, 2014

Highlights from the 2014 New Orleans Oyster Festival

The 5th Annual New Orleans Oyster Festival was a kaleidoscope of fun -- locals and visitors alike descended upon Woldenberg Park for the two-day celebration of everyone's favorite bivalve. There was great live music, thrilling oyster shucking & eating contests, and many, many tasty oyster creations.

IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2651IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2528IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2477
Oyster Tasting Smorgasbord

I’ve never seen anything quite like this before. I thought I had died and gone to oyster heaven! The festival showcased two dozen restaurant booths, each offering at least one signature oyster dish of their very own. Nearly every notable oyster bar in New Orleans was present and that offered the crowdpleasers: raw oysters, fried oysters and Po-Boys (Red Fish Grill’s BBQ Oyster Po-Boy featured above). But there were creations that I’ve never encountered before, such as Oyster BLTs, Pepper Jelly Oysters, and Oyster Boudins.

Charbroiled oysters are just as popular as raw oysters on the half shell in this town. Maybe even more so. Drago’s, the home of the original charbroiled oyster, was grilling up a storm in the middle of the festival grounds. The aroma of smoky butter garlic alone was just absolutely mouthwatering! Drago’s charbroiled oysters have become so popular that they’ve come out with their very own “at home” kit and video instructional guide, which has been great news for my friend Allie (pictured below).

IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2524 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2516IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2467
IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2519
IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2473IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2476

Another highlight at the New Orleans Oyster Festival was Grand Isle’s Smoked Fried Oysters with Garlic Aioli sauce. These plump, savory oyster bites were fantastic with a little fresh tomato and aioli. If I had two free hands, I would’ve also wrapped one of the oysters in the lettuce leaf for a “wrap” effect, which looked divine. Out of all of the exhibitors, I think Grand Isle did the best job of helping oyster fans “feast with their eyes” first. The pops of green, yellow and red did wonders to dress up an otherwise plain fried oyster.

IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2494IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2497

Thirdly, The Famous Gumbo Pot and The Original Oyster Factory paired up to present an array of three hearty options: Seafood Gumbo w/ Fried Oysters (left), Jambalaya (middle), and Pepper Jelly Oysters (right). We went for the seafood gumbo “with just a little rice.” Gumbo is a dish that originated in southern Louisiana during the 18th century, representing a melting pot of flavors and culinary influences. The one we tried here had a peppery kick and offered an interesting textural play between the crispy fried oysters and the stew itself.

IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2503

P&J Oyster Shucking Contest

Here’s where things got exciting and downright dangerous. Five professional shuckers from around town competed in this year’s P&J Oyster Shucking Contest — hosted by P & J Oyster Company — for the title of Best Shucker. Speed shucking is a highly contested activity around the world, and it is undeniably important here in New Orleans. When you work in one of the most iconic oyster capitals in the world, being able to tout top shucking creds is highly coveted.

IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2259 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2277IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2256 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2253IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2251 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2351 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2298 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2323IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2316

Speed isn’t everything though. Similar to what I learned at the Galway World Shucking Championships, presentation and cleanliness matters. After the first round, Sal Suneri of P&J Shellfish went around to check everyone’s oysters. If the oyster didn’t fall off the shell when lifted, they were discounted from the final score. Although surprisingly, getting blood (no, that ain’t cocktail sauce) on the oysters doesn’t immediately disqualify you… Jacob Hulse, the dude standing closest to the camera, gashed his hand open on the second one and kept going until he ultimately placed third. That’s hardcore.

Meanwhile, Sal finished counting.

There was a tie for first between Jason Hulse and Gus Marshall, winner of last year’s shucking contest.

The crowds began to cheer for a shuck off.

And a shuck off they received.

IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2359 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2366 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2363IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2373 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2368

Jason Hulse from Peche Seafood Grill won out as the champion of the P&J Shucking Contest. His brother, Jacob Hulse, joined in the celebration. Both of them are left handed shuckers… in fact, I later learned that all three shuckers at Peche are left-handed. Quite the coincidence!

IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2377 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2393 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2401IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2409 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2414IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2428

ACME Oyster House’s Oyster Eating Contest

The next day, the ACME Oyster House Oyster Eating Contest tested the audacity and appetites of amateur and professional eaters alike. Despite seeing globs of blood at the shuck off, this contest was actually much harder to stomach.

Last year’s eating champion, Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas made her homecoming on stage with a sweet smile. But don’t let that fool you. She’s one of the country’s most formidable competitive eaters and holds record in over 25 competitive eating contests. After slurping down 40 dozen (!!!) oysters during this year’s oyster eating competition, Sonya once again wins the ACME Oyster Eating Competition title, $500, and a snazzy oyster championship belt.

IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2683IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2688
IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2672IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2701

New Orleans Fish House Largest Oyster Contest

There are big oysters, and then there are mega oysters. These days, it’s rare to see such monoliths elsewhere, but in Louisiana, oyster farmers take care to nurture these gigantic creatures into prized contestants for the New Orleans Fish House Largest Oyster Contest. Thanks to the warmer waters and constant flow from the Mississippi River, Gulf oysters grow fast and they grow big. Coupled with solid oyster bed management, it is likely that these wonderful giants will continue to make guest appearances at the New Orleans Oyster Festival for years to come. Has anyone attempted to eat one of these suckers by the way?? (I’m not volunteering, if that’s what you’re thinking). 

IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2448

Oyster Crafts and Cookware

In addition to the food vendors, music makers, and educational crowd, the festival featured an eclectic line of local artisans and their oyster wares. My friends from Loftin Oysters were there to display and sell their oyster stoneware. A couple months ago, I gave the Loftin Oysters a spin at home and it was quite nice to see my feedback being incorporated in their latest rounds of production!

IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2432 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2436

Oyster Recycling Program

Perhaps the most exciting, yet unassuming announcement of the festival was made by Hilary Collis, Restoration Program Director of the Oyster Shell Recycling Program. This new oyster shell recycling program will collect used shells from participating restaurants in New Orleans including Acme Oyster House and Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, and clean/treat them to be ready to use in coastal restoration efforts. The reclaimed oyster shells will help restore oyster reefs and shoreline habitat across Louisiana. The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana is set to launch this community-based restoration program in just a matter of weeks.  In fact, I large plastic bins specifically designated for oyster shell collection being used around the festival.

IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2188 IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2440IAHS_2014-06-01_NOLA_IMG_2532

Tips for Attending Next Year’s New Orleans Oyster Festival

If you love oysters, then the New Orleans Oyster Festival is for you. I really had a great time at the event and got to experience oysters in ways that I have never imagined before. Go with fellow oyster-loving friends or even your family (the festival is pretty child-friendly, although I would discourage strollers).

DO

  • Wear boots or covered shoes… if it rains, you’ll understand why
  • Bring cash… each food vendor charges for their own; fortunately there are also ATMs on site
  • Study the options ahead of time… there are so many (and portions are big) that you might fill up before you hit your favorites
  • Share the samples… split the cost and stretch your stomach space by splitting portions with afriend
  • Have a disposable plastic rain jacket handy… umbrellas are too clumsy when eating
  • Try the Abita Strawberry Harvest beer with your oysters… my new obsession
  • Make your way to the front of the main stage… they giveaway t-shirts and koozies
  • Talk to strangers… everyone is friendly and from all over, so its easy to make new friends

I know this probably all sounds like a lot, but when it comes to experiencing oysters in New Orleans, there’s still a TON more to write about. Stay tuned for another post on my comprehensive New Orleans Oyster Tour!

Visit the New Orleans Oyster Festival website

Oyster EventsMay 12, 2014

Sustainable Seafood Week NYC 2014

The 2nd Annual Sustainable Seafood Week, produced by Village Fishmonger NYC, put the spotlight on locally produced and sourced seafood in conversations and in creations. From restaurant specials to celeb chef tastings, intimate supper clubs to industry lectures, here's a look at what went down this year.

The Sustainable Seafood Shindig

An all-star celebrity chef seafood tasting hosted by Tom Colicchio & Sisha Ortúzar at Riverpark

To kick-off this year’s Sustainable Seafood Week NYC, produced by Village Fishmonger NYC, Chefs Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortúzar hosted an amazing celebrity chef-studded speed-dining extravaganza at Riverpark ,benefiting the NY/NJ Baykeepers. The fast-paced station-hopping format encouraged diners to engage in various conversations with chefs, producers, and industry experts while sampling spectacular sustainable seafood dishes by April Bloomfield, Marco Canora, David Chang, Kerry Heffernan, Anita Lo, Rick Moonen, Dave Pasternack and Bill Telepan and signature cocktails by Evelyn Drinkery.

2014-05-06SSWNYCIMG_1397
Riverpark provided the perfect setting for The Sustainable Seafood Shindig. Airy, light, and right by the water. More

Oyster EventsMarch 20, 2014

8 Oyster Highlights at Seafood Expo

Just a few days after returning from my whirlwind Asia oyster tour (which I promise to write about soon!), I headed up to Boston for the 33rd Annual Seafood Expo North America.

Seafood Expo North America is the latest seafood trade event in North America. The three-day event, which attracts more than 19,000 visitors annually, connects various buyers and suppliers from over 100 countries who sell fresh, frozen and packaged seafood products. Everything and anything related to seafood were present and discussed — from sustainability to innovative packaging to new products. As for me, I wasn’t selling or buying. I roamed the long exhibition halls in search of new oyster stories. Perhaps a peek into the future of the bivalve. It was a lot of networking, learning and, of course, slurping. Here are my top eight oyster-related takeaways from the event.

#1 Pangea Shellfish’s Oysterpalooza

Pangea Shellfish‘s oyster and shellfish exhibit was inarguably the most impressive oyster display at the expo. The photo below doesn’t even do it justice. There was a whole other table filled with many other varieties to the left! Talk about feeling like a kid in a candy store. For me, their standout was their signature Standish Shore oyster. It’s a sublimely briny and sweet nugget of goodness from Duxbury Bay.

#2 Shucker Paddy’s Oyster Master Class Demonstration

One of the most knowledgeable and charismatic oyster gurus out there, 2-time World Champion Oyster Shucker and Restaurateur Patrick McMurray gave a terrific talk and demonstration on day 2 of the show. He premiered his brand new shucking knife “ShuckerPaddy,” which he designed to have an ergonomic pistol grip (putting his degree in Kinesiology to work). Update: check out this great wrap-up video with Patrick, where he goes over some of the oyster info & demo’s covered during the class.

#3 Blue Island Oyster Company’s Wild Fire Islands and Chocolate Bays

Here’s another impressive oyster exhibit from Blue Island Oyster Company, based out in Long Island. Unlike Pangea, the BI team were madly shucking oysters for all. I was pleasantly surprised by the Wild Fire Island oyster (shown below) in both taste and appearance. The outside shell displays a wild and coral-like layering effect, while the inside shell possesses a psychedelic marbling of colors. They’re a rarity on the market because they’re only harvested a few months out of the year. Lucky me!

On a related note, I became obsessed with another delicious product on their table. Chocolate oysters shaped like Naked Cowboys and seasoned with their own locally-produced sea salt. The mini oyster bag and “Chocolate Bay” bag tag were a great finishing touch! Chocolates and oysters… they know what hungry girls want!

#4 Richard Rush’s Shucking Knife Collection

Oyster aficionado Richard Rush put his wonderful oyster shucking knife collection out on display during the 8th Annual Oyster Shucking Competition. The set were kept in a lovely brown leather vintage suitcase engraved with his initials “R.R.” in gold foil. I got a sneak peek into the case and below is also a shot of the moment when Patrick McMurray presenting Richard with a “shucking puck.” (That’s how they do it in Canada…) Alongside the knife collection, Richard had also brought a nice case of oyster shells. I couldn’t stick around for an explanation, but I believe that different knives have been designed to shuck different shaped oysters. If you’re curious to learn more, check out Richard’s website all about shucking oysters!

#5 International Oyster Discoveries

American oyster growers weren’t the only ones present at the Expo. In fact, there were quite a few number of international oyster growers who were showcasing their products. I happened to come across oysters from Morocco (shown below, Mr. Mohamed Saidi of Huitres Saidi) and Mexico on the conference floor.

The Moroccan gigas oyster tasted crisp and briny. The liquor definitely had a flavor unlike anything that I’ve had before. There were no lingering flavors on the palate, possessed very subtle cucumber notes, and a pleasantly plump texture. Grown out using rack and bag, the Moroccan oyster meat reminded me of the beautiful black-mantled Moyasta oysters from Ireland.

The Kumiai oyster grown by Inter Mareal out of Baja, Mexico took me back to memories of a spring break to Ensenada many, many years ago. Cultured using the rack and bag method in the pristine waters of the Guerrero Negro Lagoon, these oysters possessed a vibrant, creamy flavor. A good balance between oceanic brine and earthy beachiness. The shells were also a real beauty. I think that they would go perfectly with a squeeze of lime and a Corona!

#6 Making New Oyster Friends at Row34

Networking is a big part of the expo and I couldn’t have been happier to doing just that over free beer and shucks at Row34.

Most memorable: Mike McGee from Ballard Fish & Oyster. Most badass: CJ Husk from Island Creek Oysters. (see below, he’s shucking two oysters at once… and um, is totally showing up Chris Sherman from ICO). Most serendipitous meetup via social networking: Mark Urwin and Jeremy Hill from 46° South Fish Co. Bring both of your passports out next time guys!

Last but not least, best oyster “saying” from Paul Packer from Northeast Seafood Products. “Eating oysters help put lead in your pencil… which is good as long as you have somebody to write to.” I followed with, “Otherwise you’d be just scribbling.” Heh.

#7 Talking Shop: Oyster Branding and Processes

As a brand strategist, I am interested in all things related to marketing, consumer behavior, and product positioning. The expo provided fertile ground to strike up conversations about oyster branding and marketing tactics. Having professional experience doing marketing communications for a variety of categories (luxury cars, tech, big oil, financial services, fast food, sports, pharma, etc), I found the seafood industry to be quite different. It’s a mixed bag of old school and new school, but one thing is clear: a handful of energetic, ambitious storytellers are out there looking to change the game.

I got a chance to chat with Tim Devine from Barren Island Oyster, Steve Vilnit from Maryland Seafood, Tal Petty from Hollywood Oyster Co., Tom Gallivan from Shooting Point Oysters, Wec Terry from H.M. Terry, The Feigenbaums from Little Shemogue Oyster Co., and many others about how they tell their unique stories.

#8 Undertaking Gulf Giants

Last but not least, I was invited to try some freshly shucked Gulf oysters from Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana by the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition. The Gulf is perhaps the only oystering region left in North America (and maybe around the world) that is still dominated by wild harvest. These oysters have been the backbone to the American oyster industry for decades and I am curious to see how they evolve to meet the new expectations of today’s oyster consumers. Despite what some of my fellow “northerners” say about Gulf oysters, I kept an open mind as I slurped. These warm water giants were meaty and mild for the most part. Some possessed more salinity than others and I was told that it varies from season to season. I was most surprised by the soft, subtle sweetness of the meat. When done right, these oysters are truly delicious!

All in all, the Seafood Expo North America provided a terrific platform for members of the international seafood community to mingle, cross-pollinate ideas, and do business. As for me, I hope to explore many of these story leads even further this year — and bring you exclusive in-depth coverage of the world’s best oyster destinations.

If you’d like to discuss a potential partnership or project, you can reach me at julie [at] inahalfshell.com!

Oyster EventsMay 22, 2013

Sustainable Seafood Week NYC 2013

Sustainability is a word we hear quite often today. Sustainable seafood, however, isn’t quite as recognized. Luckily, New York City now has its own weeklong program entirely dedicated to the celebration and discussion of this burgeoning culinary movement.

IMG_6041IMG_6017

Sustainable Seafood Week is a culinary-fueled celebration of the sustainable seafood movement already happening in and around NYC.

To kick things off, I attended the Oysters, Clams & Cocktails Benefit at Riverpark / ‘wichcraft. Proceeds went to the New York Harbor School‘s Billion Oyster Project.  Few also realize just how sustainable oyster farming really is. Samantha Lee and Sam Dixon of the Village Fishmonger are on a mission to change all of that, and what better way to get people’s attention than to lure them in with cocktails and a raw bar? Almost all of the oysters at the party were from New Jersey — a state not well known for their oysters. I had not tried four out of the five varieties present, so it was definitely a treat for me! More

Oyster EventsJune 15, 2012

Oysters and Love in St Lucia

B and I went to St Lucia in mid-May... and we got engaged!

IMG_4234

He proposed on our first day there, during the sunset by our private plunge pool that overlooked the Caribbean Sea. (No oysters involved, but he did splendidly with the ring!) So since then, I have been a little more pre-occupied with life outside of work and slurping bivalves. In fact, this post will be an oddball exception to my usual oyster-obsessed entries. It’s going to talk a little bit about my oyster discovery in St Lucia but mostly just about the trip. The next post will definitely be all about oysters though, so stay tuned!

IMG_4267

Seafood is popular on the island, but it mostly revolves around fish and crustaceans. Most of the towns around the island are fishing villages, so no modern aquaculture yet (that I know of). However, I managed to find one restaurant that offered raw oysters called The Edge, a “Eurobean” fusion joint that focuses on seafood (including sushi!) Unfortunately the sushi chef was on an emergency leave of absence when we went, but the regular menu held its own. I was particularly excited about the Caesar salad with roasted oysters from Newfoundland. Canadian oysters in the Caribbean? Check.

IMG_4399

At The Edge in Rodney Bay, B and I also shared several other tasty apps and entrees including: jumbo local prawn with squid ink pasta ravioli, shrimp and scallop skewers, red snapper, and jerk-marinated steak.

IMG_4382 IMG_4426

Outside of this fancy meal (and another swanky one at Rainforest Cafe, Marigot Bay), we had a blast exploring the local eats. We ventured into the Anse la Raye Friday Night Fish Fry with a group of Brits and went to town. I loved the fried mackerel on a stick — despite never having tried one like it, it tasted like something from out of my childhood.

IMG_4052

IMG_1438

IMG_4015 IMG_4018

When we weren’t stuffing our face with food and local beer (Piton beer is awesome), we were working off the calories scuba-diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing… among other things. St Lucia was an incredible destination for a vacation, let alone an engagement. We hope to visit again someday soon! I’ll just leave you with some of my favorite photos from the trip. If you’re curious, you can check out the rest on Flickr.

IMG_1242

This was my very first time scuba diving so I was very grateful to have such a good instructor! Thanks Andre 😀

IMG_3887

One of our favorite things to do during the day was to sit in the plunge pool and watch the boats go in and out of the bay.

IMG_3896

A glimpse of the exquisite view from Emerald Hill Villa, adjacent to our suite. The owner of the property was kind enough to let us use the entire villa when they didn’t have other guests.

IMG_1677

Kayaking through ominous weather = couples bonding.

IMG_1726

Hanging around never felt so good.

IMG_1776

Just one of the many breathtaking sunsets that we witnessed. Can’t believe I got engaged to this view!