In a town known for throwing a good party, one of Whistler’s favourite bashes of them all is set to return Sunday.
The Bearfoot Bistro’s World Oyster Invitational is poised to welcome about 650 revellers back to the Whistler Conference Centre’s Grand Foyer on Sunday, Nov. 20 for its 10th edition; 11 years after the restaurant hosted the first iteration in its Whistler Village dining room (subtracting one year for the COVID-19 pandemic, of course).
The annual throwdown—known colloquially to many Whistler locals as Oysterfest—has shifted in a few ways over the years: first across the street to the Whistler Golf Club’s practice range, then, eventually, across the Village Stroll to the Conference Centre where it was held as part of Cornucopia for the first time in 2015.
Since then, the event has served as the glamorous culmination to the resort’s annual celebration of all things food and drink, wrapping up the festival on its final Sunday.
But the Oyster Invitational’s now decade-old legacy is more than that of a raucous, champagne-and-vodka-fuelled celebration. Over the past 11 years, the event has successfully raised tens of thousands of dollars annually for a wide range of good causes.
Net proceeds from this year’s event will benefit Myeloma Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting those affected by the second most common type of blood cancer.
Lesser known that its leukemia and lymphoma counterparts, multiple myeloma attacks plasma cells found in bone marrow that the immune system depends on, explained Martine Elias, executive director of Myeloma Canada.
Though there is currently no cure, “Life expectancy about 10 years ago was three to five years, but we're seeing with new advances and new treatments that have come along that the life expectancy is increasing to between eight and 10 years right now,” said Elias.
Eleven Canadians are diagnosed with multiple myeloma daily, she added.
“We rely a lot on community fundraising events to be able to address our mission and make life better for patients and that includes, obviously, trying to find a cure but also how to live better with multiple myeloma, said Elias. The executive director said Myeloma Canada is “thrilled” to be the Oyster Invitational’s charity of choice this year.
“Based on the size of the event, the calibre of the event, the people involved in the event, it's very exciting for us to be part of this, “ she said.
For event organizer and 10-time national oyster-shucking champ Eamon Clark, the Bearfoot’s emphasis on working with charities is something he’s long admired.
“It’s their No. 1 focus,” he said. “Yes, there is an oyster competition, and they leave that up to me to wrangle, but they’re always concerned about how much money they can raise. It’s their main concern. They just want to give back and this is a great opportunity to do so—and the oyster shucking competition provides some pretty unique entertainment.”
The event has invited about 20 “of the top oyster shuckers from different parts of the world” this year, explained Bearfoot Bistro’s marketing and communications director Marc Des Rosiers, adding, “It’s quite a serious competition.”
Attendees will be treated to a front-row seat to watch champion shuckers like Honor Allen (the fastest shucker in the U.S., competing for the first time in Whistler), Irish national champ David Small, and reigning winner Mike Osborne, from right here in B.C., aim to shuck as quickly as possible while “maintaining the integrity of the oysters,” explained Clark. There’s money on the line too, with a $5,000 prize set aside for the winner, and smaller purses for the two other podium finishers.
As Clark explained, the entertainment isn’t the only unique aspect of the Sunday afternoon shucking competition.
“They don’t do this anywhere else in the world where they use three different species of oysters,” he explained. In addition to opening up the meatier Pacific, or Gigas, oysters typically found in B.C. waters, shuckers will also be tasked with handling Eastern, or Virginica, oysters from the Atlantic, and European Flat oysters harvested in Ireland.
Among the pacific oysters set to be shucked Sunday are 750 dozen molluscs (roughly $7,000 worth) donated by presenting sponsor Sawmill Bay Shellfish Co., in addition to a sizeable cash donation. The family-owned Sawmill Bay has supported the event right from the outset.
When longtime customer Bearfoot initially proposed the idea of a shucking competition in 2011, “The first year was a little bit of an unknown, so we took the risk and said, ‘Yeah, let’s try and do this.’ And then we’ve done it ever since,” said owner Steve Pocock, over the phone from his Quadra Island home.
“We get a real kick out of serving the oysters to the general public and getting good feedback and appreciation,” he added. “It’s just an awesome event.”
Not a fan of oysters? Both Pocock and Clark offered a few tips for the shellfish-averse: talk to the person serving your oysters, start small, and make sure to top your oyster with garlic butter, chili sauce or other acidic-forward toppings to offset the salty, briny flavour.
If that still isn’t enough to make oysters sound appetizing, Clark shared one piece of information that might prompt you to look at the molluscs in a different light: After indulging in a few oysters before a night out, “I always feel so much better the next day, even if I had a bunch of drinks, because there’s so many nutrients in oysters,” he said with a laugh, “It helps you recover.”
If all else fails, Bearfoot’s illustrious executive chef Melissa Craig is preparing a massive array of offerings designed for every palate, from caviar and foie gras to charcuterie and dessert and more, explained Des Rosiers, while numerous wineries and breweries will also be on deck.
For Clamato fans, the Bloody Caesar Battle is back, too. Seven B.C. bartenders, each sponsored by a different spirit brand, will be challenged to create their own unique take on the bloody Caesar using their respective spirit, and serve them up to a judging panel tasked with selecting the winner.
The Bearfoot Bistro’s 2022 World Oyster Invitational and Bloody Caesar Battle takes place at the Whistler Conference Centre on Sunday, Nov. 20 from 3 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $159 and available here.