They are slimy and hard to open, but they taste so good all hard work is worth it. Oyster shuckers from around the world are coming back to Whistler for the second annual World Oyster Invitational at the Bearfoot Bistro to unlock oyster shells and offer up the tasty treasures inside for spectators of the event.
André Saint-Jacques, the founder of the Bearfoot Bistro, has been working with his team to bring some of the best shuckers in the world to Whistler for the event.
The competitor line-up truly is international with Xavier Caille of France returning for a second shot at the contest. Since competing last year he has picked up the prestigious title of 2011 Galway International Oyster Opening Champion.
Michael Moran, who works at his family business in Galway, will represent Ireland.
The Irishman brings 15 years of oyster experience to the contest growing up working in the family restaurant watching his world champion father open oysters. Moran is a six-time Irish champion and a three-time European champion shucker.
Moran and Noriko Kamashima of Japan will both compete in Whistler for the first time.
It looks like Kamashima will be the only female competitor at the World Invitational. Her 15 years of experience working with oysters and her experience on Japanese television will likely work in her favour.
Kamashima took fourth at the recent All Japan Oyster Championships.
A little closer to home is Anthony Pane. The American shucker competed in the Whistler event last year and will be back for another shot at his first ever competition victory.
"At different competitions I got as close as second place," says Pane from Ballard in the northwestern part of Seattle.
Pane's restaurant, the Walrus and the Carpenter, focuses on seafood. He's leaving the restaurant behind for a weekend because of his experience last year.
"I was up there last year and I had a hell of a time, it was great," says Pane. "Great hospitality, great people, really nice contest and, you know, it's Whistler."
Pane shared some of his strategies from Seattle in advance of the contest. He says it isn't unusual for competitors to try and get the rest of the field drunk the night before the event and then again during the event.
"Its not dirty, I would say, it is all part of the strategy, I suppose," says Pane. "Sometimes the night before they'll host a dinner for everybody and that's usually where it gets pretty rowdy."
That is when the trash talking will begin but Pane notes it is all in good fun.
"There is a little bit of trash talking but I think it's, for the most part, not vindictive," says Pane. "...They're just having fun."
Besides, Pane says he likes to go to the competitions to meet other people who do the same thing he does and talk about what they all have in common: oysters.
Pane is looking forward to seeing Ian Peck and Bob Skinner, two of the Vancouver competitors planning to attend the World Invitational.
According to Pane, Peck is a good guy. The pair has competed together in the past and everyone in the oyster world knows Oyster Bob, originally named Bob Skinner by his parents.
Oyster Bob shucks at Joe Forte's in Vancouver.
Peck works at Chewies Steam and Oyster Bar in Vancouver but he's originally from the east coast fishing town of Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Even closer to home, Trevor Hiltz will represent Whistler. Hiltz is the resident shucker at the Bearfoot.
There's another international-ish competitor worth noting. Oscar Galdamez works in Vancouver at Coast Restaurant, but he's considered an international competitor because he is originally from El Salvador.
Michael Morris from Rodney's Oyster House in Vancouver will be there with the right attitude.
"Most of the things associated with oysters seem to have a common theme that is money, power, status and sex," says Morris.
Jarret Gruban and a pair of late entries from the eastern U.S. will round out the competition roster at the Bearfoot.
According to Bearfoot Executive Chef Melissa Craig, oyster shuckers are all unique.
"If you could imagine, they're a species of their own kind," she says with a cheeky smile. "Oyster shuckers are oyster shuckers, that's all they do. They focus on one thing, all you do is shuck oysters."
And, with that, the trash talking really begins.
The oyster lovers will converge on Whistler Sunday, July 15.
In addition to the Oyster Invitational, the Bearfoot Bistro is also holding a Bloody Caesar Battle featuring top mixologists vying for $5,000 in prizes.
Proceeds from the party on July 15 will be donated to the BC Children's Hospital Foundation.
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