Under a sparkly Sunday afternoon sun, hundreds upon hundreds of Montrealers came out to celebrate one of the city’s most beloved foods: deliciously cold, perfectly plump, freshly shucked oysters.
And celebrate they did.
Oysterfest 2014 was a food-frenzied, booze-soaked, extravaganza with entertainment to satisfy every single of your senses.
Aside from the half shells piled high under the endless rows of tents, over thirty of Montreal’s top foodie locations set up shop and served delicious dishes of every variety at the Oysterfest headquarters—Terrase Bonsecours.
Some of the highlights included hot-off-the-grill burgers by Rosewood, too-good-to-pass up sushi by Ryu, and other gastronomic delights from Garde Manger, Flyjin, Bevo, L’Orignal, Mechant Boeuf, Grinder, and Sel Gras, just to name a few.
But to truly tap into the oyster culture (as any champion shucker will tell you), you have to get in touch with your boozy side. Whether you like getting your gears grinding with exotic beers, top quality tequila, or just a standard vodka-rocks, Oysterfest had you covered thanks to the good folks from Philemon and Burgundy Lion. Also creating quite the stir was the refreshing Old Fashioned at the Xintury Mezcal tequila bar, championed by chef Matt McKean of Rosewood and Joverse. (Too-cool co-owner-slash-rock-n-roller Jonas Tomalty could also be found making his way through the crowd.)
And of course, in Montreal, there’s always the fashion.
Bow-tied bartenders, boho fashinistas, crop top crushers, hipsters, prepsters, beards, beads, and everything in between. From surf hair to slicked-back styles, from plaid shirts to nautical stripes to (Notable favourite) tees by La Montrealaise Atelier—Oysterfesters were definitely dressed in their festival best.
Hitting up the main stage for a 5th Oysterfest appearance was super talent, The Shane Murphy Band. “When I was first asked to play at Oysterfest, I thought ‘awesome, I’ll eat as many oysters as I want. But I didn’t have one,” jokes Murphy. “But everyone that works this festival does it because they just love the vibe of the festival. Now I just have to learn how to shuck!”
After a dizzyingly successful year, Oysterfest founder Daniel Notkin was all smiles. Revving up the crowd of seafood fanatics, hyping the competitors—all his usual antics with the added boost of a central stage. “We wanted to make it really big this year,” says Daniel. “We took a risk, but it paid off. I think we had over four thousand people.”
After five years of bringing together oyster-lovers from across the province, Daniel decided that year six would expand the community even more. And by more, we mean global.
This year, Oysterfest hosted the first leg of the Oyster Opening World Cup. “All the Euro guys have never been here before,” explains Daniel. “I really look up to them. There’s no prize money to be won. It’s just the elegance and beauty of shucking at this competition.”
And what a shuck off it was.
At 7pm, as the sun started to set over the Canal, the titans of the oyster world took the stage. Fourteen shuckers from across the globe; three heats of international shucking champions all vying for first place.
The oh-so-entertaining M.C. Joanna Notkin counted them down and the world’s oyster talent dropped their hands and went to work, dexterously snapping open, scrapping, and cleaning one oyster after another as the crowd cheered them on.
Some of the more colourful characters included William “Chopper” Young, international shucking champion from Wellfleet, Massachusetts, who sent oyster shells flying into the audience. “Shucking forward takes less time than shucking down,” explains Chopper. “I also shuck scallops out the window.” Another crowd favourite was Irish master shucker Michael Moran who’s legendary family-run restaurant, Moran’s Oyster Cottage, has been serving up half shells for over 250 years. Also on stage: Patrick McMurray, owner of Toronto oyster bar, Starfish, and the Guinness world record holder for most oysters opened in a minute, and French world champion, Xavier Caille, adorned in pearl necklaces, shucking à main nues.
“This festival is really for the restaurants and the shuckers. The crowd can’t help but have a good time because all the people working are having a good time.”
All Oysterfest proceeds benefit the World Wildlife Fund of Canada and Daniel’s own Open Pier Foundation—a non-profit group designed to protect the waterways, and to promote sustainable fishing and harvesting. “The industry has expanded quickly and aggressively,” explains Daniel. “But the oyster…the oyster is the one food in the world that the more you eat it, the better it is for the world. Every oyster you buy allows the farmer to plant more seed, raise more oysters, and clean more water.”
“The oysters that we bring in are specially chosen. Our oysters come from farmer driven companies. Small growing operations whose owners put a lot of care and love into what they do. And we have great relationships with all of them—and if not the farmers themselves, then the companies that represent them.
”How will Oysterfest 2015 top this year’s festivities? “I really don’t know,” laughs Daniel. “But I’ll think of something.” We don’t know about you, but we already can’t wait.