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Oyster Know-HowJanuary 1, 2018

A Handy List of Oyster Shuckers, Caterers and Mobile Raw Bars

I’m a huge fan of shucking my own oysters, but when it’s about planning a celebration or business event, nobody’s got time for that! If you’re less, “do it yourself,” and more about “do it for me,” look no further. Here’s a quick compilation of shucking services, caterers and mobile raw bars from around the country that can help take your event to the next level.

IAHS Oyster Catering IMG_3092

Oyster Shuckers, Mobile Raw Bars & Catering Services

This list just keeps on growing and growing, so I’ve decided to turn it into a database that is searchable, segmentable, filterable and sortable. I used Airtable to build this and have been obsessed with their platform for over a year! It’s so easy to use and has made keeping track of lots of information fun and simple.

Oyster Education & Curated Tastings

I am taking on a limited number of private clients this summer & fall on the East and West Coast.
Reach out if you’re interested!

 

How to Shuck

I made a shucking video and page just for that. Also, you might like my “How to Enjoy Oysters at Home” post.

Oyster Know-HowAugust 5, 2017

How to Style and Photograph Oysters Like a Pro

If you’re in the food business, you know exactly how important aesthetics are to our perception of quality and deliciousness. We eat with our eyes first, after all! When it comes to styling and photographing oysters, a lot can go wrong, even without you knowing it.

In my early blogging days, I would snap and share every platter of oyster that I consumed. Today, I’m quite a bit more selective about which photos to use and what not to share. Gashed bellies? Denied. Dried meats? Adios. It takes a lot now to make it to my Instagram feed, and it’s for good reason. When I see a popular website or magazine share a photo of crappy oysters, it’s basically perpetuating flawed taste. For true oyster nerds, we grimace (and maybe cry a little on the inside) when a butchered plate of oysters is published or shared by an influential chef or writer. Don’t let bad oyster photography happen to you!

Asking a Styling Pro: Adrienne Anderson

So how do you get it right? If you’re looking for oyster styling inspiration and benchmarking, there’s no better book to reference than The Essential Oyster by Rowan Jacobsen, photographed by David Malosh with food stylist Adrienne Anderson. I’m always in awe of good food styling and framing. Adrienne was kind enough to offer up her sage advice about her craft to us.

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of styling oysters and how do you manage it?

The biggest challenge with any kind of styling project is answering the question Why I am doing this? Why do I need to add this image to the world? Am I an oyster farmer who wants to sell a lot of product? Am I a scientist who wants to highlight some particular feature that’s unusual to the organism? Am I on social media trying to get some likes? Is my motivation financial, intellectual, artistic? Once you know where you’re going, you’ll have a much easier time getting there.

As for the technical side of styling oysters, the hardest part is that you are dealing with a living organism that has zero interest in your styling agenda. Oysters, like all of us, would rather not be vivisected with sharp knives and put on display. So they’re not exactly going to pose for the camera. If you want to shoot six great-looking oysters, you should plan to start with at least two dozen. The bigger sample you can start with, the better your outcome will be.

What are some tips or tricks that might help someone who’s trying to get the perfect oyster shot?

Again, first you need to know what the “perfect shot” means to you. The Scandinavian style of food photography that took off ten years ago is still going strong – we see this all over Instagram and it’s still the dominant style of books and magazines. Cool natural light, wabi-sabi props and surfaces, lots of graphic overhead studio shots interspersed with images of wild locations. (Ditte Isager’s photography for the original Noma cookbook is still the gold standard for this style.) If you want this look, try setting up your shot in a darkish room next to a bright window. Use only natural light, and keep the props minimal and zen.

In general, I always say that the number one rule of food styling is wet is beautiful. Wetness makes highlights, highlights make contrast, and contrast makes a dynamic image. Try adding a little extra brine if the oyster is dry, try tilting the shell in different ways to see how the light plays off it, try using matte props so the oyster is the only thing shining.

That said, don’t go coating your oysters with shellac or something just to make them shine. Show some respect to the oyster. Eat it when you’re done. If you’ve done something heinous to the creature just to get an image, it was not worth it. In The Old Days, stylists used to use shoe polish and Maggi seasoning to make barely cooked turkeys look roasted and bronzed. Or Poligrip to glue sandwiches together. Or they would stuff apple pies with mashed potatoes and paper towels to make them look full and “abundant.” All that food ended up in the garbage when the shoot was over. Which seems to me like the height of human stupidity.

What was your favorite oyster staging for The Essential Oyster and why?

Hmm…all of them? Can I say that? It really was a dream project to work on. When we pitched the idea for the images to Bloomsbury, Rowan’s publisher, we had a high-concept idea where we would tie each image to the terroir of its oyster. I’m looking back at my original email from 2015 now and I actually proposed that we would “capture the minerality of a Moonstone by shooting it on a flinty hand-poured concrete slab with Point Judith sand as the substrate.” Needless to say, when the budget and timeline came in, we had to axe the idea of mixing our own concrete. But David Malosh and I did make many of the props ourselves, and the idea of terroir still surfaced in many of the images. The shot of Olympias on weathered copper, for example. I love the metallic flavor of those oysters so we used salt water to develop a patina on those copper sheets.

If I had to pick an absolute favorite, I’d say it has to be the spread of Hama Hama oysters. The wood and moss came from the forest that looms over the tidal flats on the James family land where they grow their oysters. It’s one of the most beautiful places to get lost; it looks like the Forest Moon of Endor. You half-expect an ewok to come down a trail with an oyster knife. To me, images are beautiful when they fix a transitory moment in the eternal, and that shot will always be my secret doorway to that place.

Every oyster in the book is shucked flawlessly. Was it a conscious decision to open each one carefully and precisely? How do you feel when you see a magazine spread today that features massacred oysters? What would you say to the people responsible?

Oh, it was definitely my intention to open each one carefully and precisely…but anyone’s who’s shucked a few oysters knows that the road to (s)hell is paved with good intentions. Some of the shells crumbled in my hands, some of the meats turned out thin and listless, some beautiful rare oysters nearly met their end when they got trapped on FedEx truck and I had to drive to Queens to rescue them from certain death in a 110-degree warehouse. Just a few of the many reasons why you always want to procure a few extras if you can.

On the question of magazines – that’s touchy! I count many of them as clients, and there are some photo editors who really know their stuff and do a great job. But to the merchants of schlock who peddle images of mangled oysters (I’m looking at you, internet), I say slow down. Find the experts. There are so many talented people working in the oyster industry who are willing—even eager—to share their knowledge if you just ask them. And there are some incredibly talented shuckers working the restaurant circuit whose skills deserve to featured in their own right (the crew at Kimball House in Decatur, GA, at Oyster Club in Mystic, CT, and at Pêche in New Orleans all jump to mind, and don’t even get me started on the perfection of Joe Beef). But you have to go out and meet these people; you have to experience what they do firsthand. You’ll never get it by googling.

Finally, for my own technical curiosity, when do you shuck the oysters for your shoot? Do you set up the staging and then shuck? Or shuck, place and then style around it? Can you pre-shuck to some extent?

For The Essential Oyster, one of the big challenges was making each image look different from the next. It was like doing 100 shots of steaks: sure, a rib-eye is totally different from a porterhouse…but is it really? You have to find a way to blow up the nuances. With oysters, you have to find a way to see the same salty blob as fresh and new. On a book of this scope, I also needed to make sure the pacing had a rhythm to it: changing up the scale of each shot, alternating light and dark palettes, varying the angle of the composition. David and I were shooting the images out of order over several months, so as we finished each shot he would print a Polaroid and pin it to the wall according to its page number. Then we’d fill in the blanks as we finished each image. These bigger storyboard arcs totally occupied my mind, so whenever it was possible to shuck the oysters in advance for a particular shot and keep them in the fridge, I did. Maybe an hour or two. Anything to buy a little time to figure out the creative flow.

And speaking of creative flow, I have to say that David is actually a much better shucker that I am. He can operate a camera with one hand and shuck an oyster with the other. It’s like watching an octopus solve a Rubik’s cube. I highly recommend working with him if you ever get the chance.

Buy the book on Amazon.

Other Resources

STYLING GUIDE: A month ago, I had the opportunity to work with a fabulous champagne brand and their creative agency on a media event and booklet. Although I wasn’t able to attend their shoot, I put together a little cheat sheet of “what to do / what not to do” when it comes to oyster presentation. Download the Oyster Shucking (PDF)

HOW TO SHUCK: Watch my own video

SOURCING PROPS: Check out the Oyster Concierge and Gift Wish List for ideas

Oyster Know-HowJune 11, 2017

Is Wet Storage Good for Oyster Culture?

Wet storage is one of the most contentious oyster topics out there, but it barely registers on the bivalve-buzz-o-meter. It’s not particularly cool or sexy, but it’s worth knowing about if you want to be in-the-know. I’ve been contemplating this topic for over a year now and my thoughts still bounce back and forth. But I’m just going to post what I’ve got for now and iterate. Comments, questions, thoughts are welcome!

The idea behind wet storage is simple. They exist to temporarily hold oysters, or other live seafood so that they don’t die while they’re on their way to meet certain death. (Your absentminded uncle’s fancy saltwater aquarium is just a long-term wet storage system.) Anyway, you’ve probably seen an example of it at a fish market or high-end Chinese restaurant. There are many kinds of wet storage systems and few are straightforward.

Why does wet storage even matter to me? Let’s start with a little context.

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Oyster Know-HowFebruary 3, 2017

How to Open Oysters Without a Shucking Knife

Have you ever been stuck on an island with a bunch of oysters, but not a shucking knife? Here’s how to work around this “terrible” situation.

In A Half Shell Zeeland Roem Holland Oysters

Over the winter holiday, B and I went on our first dedicated dive trip to Bonaire, a tiny island that’s part of the Netherlands Antilles in the Carribean Sea. Ever since our trip to St. Lucia in 2012, I have been fascinated with being underwater. Then once I got my PADI certification in Thailand in 2014, scuba diving has become our new thing. If you haven’t tried it before, do try it! It gives you a whole new level of appreciation for our oceans.

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Oyster Know-HowJuly 10, 2016

Natural Wine 101 and Oyster Pairing with Sommelier Doreen Winkler

Before meeting Doreen Winkler, a natural wines expert and founder of Diamond Sommelier Services, I had honestly no idea what natural wines were all about. The two words sounded superfluous together, or maybe even “marketing-esque” at first. Then a few months ago, we hosted a Natural Wine and Oyster Pairing class together at Sel Rrose, and she opened my eyes to this growing niche. Here’s what I learned (and what you need to know):

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What is natural wine?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a complete layman when it comes to wine. I had a romantic view of winemaking as an artisanal, non-industrial process. Apparently, that’s only a small fraction of the industry today. The term “natural wine” is a broad umbrella that includes organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wine. Natural wine is about 1% of the wine produced in the world today. Note that not all organic wines are necessarily considered to be “natural.”

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