All hail the World Oyster Invitational

There's no better Sunday mission (or way to hold a looming Monday at bay) than strolling through city streets in search of the perfect patio on which to enjoy oysters and crisp, white wine. On July 10, it will be possible to land at one of the world's top oyster experiences in Whistler, when the Bearfoot Bistro hosts the first annual World Oyster Invitational and Guinness World Record shucking competition.

"We're attracting global oyster shuckers, people from so many different places and I've been told that the line-up of oyster shuckers that we have is probably the best that they've ever seen for any oyster competition," said Marc DeRosiers, marketing relations specialist for Bearfoot Bistro. "We have seen here at the Bearfoot Bistro, the interest of the clientele and because of the interaction between the oyster shucker and our patrons, we feel that it is something that people will be interested in and also, there are no oyster shucking competitions in British Columbia so we decided to hold one."

Slippery and ocean-steeped, oysters are mysterious and misunderstood to the unfamiliar palate. Their appeal is in their raw, delicate perfume and texture, one that is unlike any other food experience on the planet. On first try, most people are so distracted by their texture that they miss out on their more pleasing elements but once the experience is acclimatized the flavour is often addictive.

"It's a delicacy and an acquired taste," said Bearfoot Bistro owner André Saint-Jacques. "People who enjoy oysters tend to be foodies. And I think of course, being from British Columbia - the land of oysters - it's appropriate to sell and serve oysters to our patrons."

DeRosiers agreed that oyster appreciators tend to be a certain breed.

"It is probably someone who is adventurous and I would also say champagne lovers  - to be able to pair champagne with oysters or wine with oysters, it's a great combo," he said. "I would say it's someone who is more adventurous, food wise but there's a way you can start with smaller oysters and the mignonette (cocktail sauce) also adds on a lot of flavour and it's something that could be more and more approachable for people."

Professional shuckers from the U.S.A., Canada, France, Japan and Australia will face three separate challenges at the event. They will be tasked to perfectly shuck and present a dozen oysters within a minute, which includes not spilling the inner juices while properly severing the muscle (without cutting themselves) and preventing any grit or broken shell from mixing with the flesh - all the while maintaining a comfortable and witty rapport with the audience. Each contestant will also have the opportunity to shine in the Best Mignonette competition by creating unique sauces to serve with the oysters. The grand finale will see each challenge the status quo of 38 oysters shucked in 60 seconds in an effort to set a new Guinness World Record.

While the celebration of oyster culture is at the top of the list for Saint-Jacques, he's also invested in keeping a steady flow of tourist traffic travelling through Whistler.

"The idea for the event itself came from the economy that we have now - we really have to start doing things outside the ordinary to stimulate the purpose for people to come to Whistler and obviously holding an oyster competition of this size and nature attracts the best shuckers from around the world," he said. "It also attracts a substantial amount of media and I think it's really important for us in Whistler to keep looking forward and come up with new ideas and ways to attract the tourism business."

Event attendees will participate in the judging before final contestant creations are judged by Pino Posteraro, executive chef at Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill; Robert Clark, executive chef at C Restaurant; Chris Field, oyster shucker at Oyster Boy Restaurant in Toronto; and Bearfoot Bistro executive chef Melissa Craig. The contestants will participate in preliminary qualifying heats before going head to head in the finals, with only one taking home the top prize of $5,000 - the largest prize ever granted at an oyster-shucking contest.

The oysters used for the competition will be sourced from Sawmill Bay Shellfish Company and paired with a variety of vodkas and wines. All proceeds raised will go to a Japanese earthquake recovery fund.

The event will be held on Sunday, July 10 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m at Bearfoot Bistro (4121 Village Green). Tickets are $45 and can be purchased online at www.bearfootbistro.com/invitational or by calling 604-932-3433.




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