With the highly anticipated Montreal Oysterfest just around the corner (September 8th), we’re all wondering what changes have come about and what we can expect. Last year’s festivities were beyond stellar ,so it’s only natural that this year will be bigger, better and more shuck-alicious! We caught up with Oysterfest brainchild Daniel Notkin to get as much scoop as we can and get you all ready for the oyster party of the year.
Oyster Week is coming up… how excited are you?
Pretty amazingly excited, pretty wonderfully daunted, pretty thrilled. Making me smile thinking about it. Gonna be a great, great year.
For those that are new to this, can you briefly explain how it started and who’s behind it?
Well, I was just starting out oyster shucking five years ago, and I had heard about this “oysterfest” in Ottawa. An “oysterfest?” What’s that? And there’s a shucking competition? Really? Huh. Okay. And my sister, who’s also a former champion oyster shucker (and the only girl to win the Ontario Championships), said she would go, and so would her friends who own and run Rodney’s Oyster House in Toronto. Well, I went, competed, had the best day ever, went to Rodney’s Oysterfest later that month, had a blast as well, and said, “Hey, we’re a world class city. Montreal’s pretty awesome and great. Why don’t WE have an oysterfest?” So, I got back home, rushed together a few friends, like Derek Dammann (Maison Publique, formerly of DNA), David McMillan (Joe Beef), Toby Lyle (Burgundy Lion, Brit and Chips), Riccardo Cellere (Riccardo Cellere Photography), Genvieve Boucher (Rezin), Travis Champion (L’Orignal), Bierbrier, and Pec Nord and La Mer, invited some friends, put up all my own money for tents and chairs and alcohol, and had a little fest. 180 people showed up. Broke even. Had the best day ever.
What is the Open Pier Foundation and how is it involved?
My goal with Oysterfest and in what I do was always to make a difference. Even in some way, somewhere, I always hoped we’d be in the place to have a real foundation that would really stand for some kind of change and be a beacon for what Oysterfest was always about. Two years ago we founded the Open Pier Foundation with the help of my friends Toby Lyle and Riccardo Cellere. The OPF is, and was always supposed to be, the driving force behind Oysterfest. People aren’t only coming for a good time, they’re coming to have a blast and make a difference. Restaurants aren’t only spending all their time and effort for just a great day, they know they’re working towards, now and in the future, the salvation of the product we love and the place it comes from – the sea. This year, Oysterfest and The Open Pier Foundation will be donating the bulk of its proceeds to the World Wildlife Fund and their great programs on sustainability and shore cleanup – vital for oysters, the ocean, and our planet.
The venue changed this year… why?
I like to make my life more difficult. Whew. Ha! Well, the fest was also always supposed to be a fest for all of Montreal. For everyone who loves food and drink (and the environment). We had just grown a notch too large for our lovely little space. More restaurants wanted to be involved. More vendors and suppliers. More friends wanted to come. We hope to retain the intimacy and feel of great friends out for some food. And a drink. Or two. But we all loved our old space. It was just great. Our new home this year is absolutely beautiful and we have been waiting two years to be big enough to grow into it. Like a little hermit crab ready for the bigger shell!
Is the famous Oyster shucking hoedown back again?
‘Twill! And bigger than ever I think! Crews are coming from Toronto and Ottawa ready to take top prize, and our Montreal teams are really, really excited to show them who’s the new boss around. We’ve got some pretty top shuckers brewing, I gotta say…
What’s new this time around?
Lots of things: champagne bar in the works, Mott’s is sponsoring a Caesar bar and the Best Caesar in Town Competition with competitors from Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax, Evenko will be sponsoring our ticketing, creating a hopeful no wait time to enter, a beautiful big open space to roll around in, new beautiful stage, Yelp will be there live with the event projecting Instagram photos that people put up, a live podcast, some great new restaurants, and hopefully an on-site mural that we will be donating…
With the food truck craze in full effect, will there be any on site as well?
Ah, we have to see… There are certain technicalities with our new space, so we’rewaiting to talk to the city. That’s always fun. They’ve been pretty good to us, but there’s a bunch of rules. Rules. But there’s a lot of hope!
What do you hope Oysterfest will bring Montreal?
It’s hopefully already brought a lot. When tourist season is over, we have a great bunch of passionate people flocking to the city, and more to come in the following years. One thing I’m very proud it has brought is that, though all the competitions I’ve been attending – from Boston, to Vancouver, to Copenhagen – I, and our great city, will be hosting the 2014 Oyster Opening World Cup, which originated in Copenhagen. We look forward to having some of the best shuckers in the world come to Montreal to vie for the title of World’s Best Oyster Shucker. Additionally, the night before will be the Canadian Qualifiers with Canada’s best. We also hope to raise awareness and make Montreal a leading city by taking the passion we have for food and translating that into the passion we have and hope to inspire for saving our resources.
Last year no one seemed to want to leave. Are you extending the hours of the celebrations this time around?
I think to do so would be dangerous… veeeerrrry dangerous. Oh, man. That was fun. Were you there for the champagne at the end? Soaked. The event will be extended upwards; we start at 1pm and still end at 9.
Any after parties?
Yep! We are lucky to be affiliated with Terrasses Bonsecours this year. They’ve been invaluable in many ways and also great friends. We are in the works for everyone to simply walk across the little bridge and party on into the late hours… I encourage all of you to call in absent now for the following day.
Lastly, where can everyone get tickets? Will there be any at the door?
Good question. We have a great partnership with Evenko this year. And they are thrilled to be helping us. All tickets are available on Evenko.ca if you’re from out of town – or in town and don’t feel like leaving the house – or at all of their box offices! We will be leaving a very, very small amount at the door and we are limiting our tickets to 2000 this year. We do expect to sell out, so please, please, please don’t be like me and cleaning my apartment – get to it! See you all at Montreal Oysterfest.
All Images Courtesy of: Riccardo Cellere