The International Seafood Show was in town all weekend so Team ICO was in overdrive with buyers’ meetings, working the show, and loading in and out. I went over twice – Sunday for a bit and Monday afternoon for the shucking competition. The place was a zoo; the convention center is as massive as an airplane hangar filled with seafood and industry purveyors and their crazy elaborate booths. One corner featured every possible seafood related processing tool (a vacuum for the sea! it’ll even slice, dice, and shrink wrap!) while ICO was set up with its shucking boat in the shellfish area. I actually saw a motorcycle designed to look like a shrimp. And the crowd was totally unexpected. Lots of suits, some chefs, and a random smattering of super leggy women…though I’m still not sure where they fit into the picture.
Dave got to see some of the action and meet my crew on Sunday. It was also the day of Southie’s St. Patty’s Day parade which once again I managed to avoid (seven years in Boston and I still haven’t been), so there were plenty of green beads and hats lying around. Monday was a little more entertaining; I worked on the farm in the a.m. and got to the show by 3. My pal Rowan Jacobsen was MC’ing the shucking contest — I’ve never actually seen one of these before and apparently there’s a pretty intense shucking circuit. The man to beat? A Wellfleet guy named Chopper. Yes, Chopper. He won the world competition last year (right?!) and as we walked up to the contest we actually caught him stretching.
There were 2 heats: east coast oysters, then west (two very different species, the west coast variety being more difficult in this case). The dozen or so shuckers (including one rock star woman from Virginia) picked out 12 east coast oysters to get started. They had to shuck and present them like they would in a raw bar so speed counted but so did tidiness. Before they started, I heard Chopper tell the woman sitting in the front row to watch out: she was sitting where his shells would fly, down and to the right.
I think the anticipation was more thrilling than the contest. I mean, these guys were quick but I kept waiting for someone to slice off a finger. Chopper shucked in one quick motion: slip the knife in, pop the shell off (and into the audience) slide it around the side, cut and flip the meat. Just like that.
Rowan spoke about the different methods (some go in from the side, others from the back) and called out the contestants’ progress. Pat McCluskey represented Island Creek and held his own but Chopper eventually won both rounds full minutes before anyone else was finished. I didn’t time it but I’d say he went through a dozen in less than three minutes. We didn’t stick around for the awards’ ceremony but I walked away with a new appreciation for their work.
Back at the booth, Mark (Skip’s previous farm manager) taught me how to shuck a few and I swear it took me ten minutes to get one open. (Sorry Uncle Jim. It’s been a long time since our last Christmas lesson.) I jabbed myself a few times but after 3 or 4 oysters it started to get easier. Matthew suggested I start shucking a dozen every day when I’m done with work to practice. I may make my way onto the circuit yet. Better watch yer back, Chopper.
Meanwhile, back at the farm…
Monday and yesterday were a little less action packed but full of culling/counting/washing/bagging. A2 and I did the bagging while Berg went dragging yesterday. I’ve gathered that when the wind blows south, like it will today, the water gets too choppy to go out so Berg takes in as many oysters as he can when he goes out. Me, I’m happy to stay on land and cull and bag for now. Even after 8 hours of sleep, I was exhausted yesterday. Oh, that reminds me.
Current list of aches and pains:
2 sore wrists/forearms (I’m guessing early onset arthritis)
2 swollen hands
5 nicks on hands from shucking
About a dozen bruises across my thighs (from hoisting the crates up)
1 tight back (but it’s better than last week)
2 tight hamstrings (but those are from my Saturday run, which I was completely winded by unfortunately)
I’ll continue to keep track since it’ll probably get worse. I should also link my Twitter account to this blog somewhere. Lots of funny moments throughout the day. Yesterday, A2 and I were inspired to start a new band called The Cullers – we’ve got two songs that sound an awful lot like the Killers (“I’ve got shells but I’m not an oyster”; “Count like you mean it”). A2 is on vocals and harmonica; I’ll be on tambo. We’re still working on Berg.
Supposed to get up near 60 today. Looking forward to a sunny afternoon. If you’re stuck indoors, just think of me and my guys, dressed like Oompa Loompas, hoses and crates in hand, belting out oldies at the top of our lungs.