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Well, it’s officially over… and it has been for almost two weeks. Apologies (again!) for taking so long to get this to you. But truthfully, I don’t think I’d fully digested all that occurred at this year’s Oyster Festival until just now. But here I am, with a recap at last.
It was an absolute whirlwind, from the moment the tents went up until the very last oyster was shucked. While we kept the footprint and general scope the same as last year (oysters, Harpoon, 20+ chefs, super-fun bands) we’d made some improvements to the system. One of those was the addition of a serious volunteer program — it produced more than 450 volunteers who did everything from teach our guests about recycling to working side by side with the chefs. We got them all under the tents on Thursday night for a little info session where Shore, Michelle Conway (our tireless volunteer coordinator and my new hero) and I filled them in on what to expect.
From there, it was straight into Friday for a long day of set up, a flurry of ticket sales and visitors at the office. On site, we got the signs hung, the tables set up, and put all the bones in place. That night, we celebrated with pizza and a few beers under the tent and welcomed a few friends who’d come in for the Fest (Nantucket buddies Seth and Angela Raynor & winemaker Jim Clendenen)
Saturday morning, we woke up to an absolutely brilliant sunny morning. After gathering all my last minute lists, supplies, and sanity at the office, I was out to the beach first thing. By 9 a.m., the place was buzzing with committee members who were anxious to get the final touches in place. Meanwhile, over at our friends the Hale’s house (where I’ve had more than a few Will Heward-hosted dinners), chef Ming Tsai and the TV crew of his show Simply Ming got busy shooting a number of segments for his upcoming season (look for Skip, Shore, and Jeremy Sewall once the show starts up again).
By noon, the Fest space was starting to look like a party and I got to spend a few quiet minutes with the who’d arrived.
But before long, it was 3 p.m. and Fest was underway. The crowds arrived in droves. From the minute the party started, the raw bars were packed – we shucked 34,000 oysters over the course of the day! Our shucker volunteers were animals, a few of them even worked straight through the event. (Thank you, Mark Goldberg!)
Inside the VIP Tent, some of our superstar chefs, winemakers, and bartenders demo’d entertaining tips for the crowd; but Annie Copps and Jim Clendenen truly stole the show. The food lines snaked through the tent but somehow my parents (who were up for the weekend) managed to sneak in at least a few bites of lobster served up by the Island Creek Oyster Bar staff. (Curious yet?)
Around the Main Tent, chefs were putting out steak tacos, pulled pork sammies, oyster bloody Marys, lobster tacos, and razor clam ceviche. I walked through the crowd a few times, overwhelmed by the number of people, but they were all having a blast and raved about the food. Just as the sun was going down, I finally got a taste of my own — a mini pulled pork slider from the guys at East Coast Grill.
Before I knew it, our band Joe Bachman & the Crew were on stage ripping it up for the crowd. Shore, Skip and I got pulled up there a couple times but the best seat in the house was right beside the stage. And while I didn’t catch the actual announcement, I was pretty touched to find out that Shore went up there at one point and told the crowd that they’d named me the 2010 Island Creek Pearl. An honor I will never forget.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Island Creek Oyster Fest without a killer finale. Ours came in the form of the band playing Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive — for Berg and the boys, of course.
And just like that… the party ended. After shuttling everyone out of the tents, we made our way over to CJ’s for his historic after party. And look – we had the whole party bus to ourselves.
The after party was as wild as it’s ever been. DJ Ryan Brown spun some tunes, the dancefloor was a mess, and someone passed out in the bushes. Just like high school…
It was yet another epic night in the history of Island Creek…one I’m proud to say I helped pull off. We raised about $150,000 for the Island Creek Oysters Foundation, entertained 3,000 of our closest friends, and had a damn good time doing it.
So you think we’d give ourselves a break, right?
Not this crowd.
The following week, Island Creek hosted a pretty incredible oyster tasting at Eastern Standard. We invited a number of wine experts from around the city to sit down and taste 18 varieties of oysters with us. It was a wonderful array with oysters from across the country. A few stand outs (for me) were the Moon Shoals, Totten Virginicas, East Beach Blonds, Kusshis, and Hog Islands. Man, those West Coasters grow some fine oysters. My favorite moment came when Skip tasted the Kusshi — he immediately turned to me and said, “I think I just fell in love with oysters again.”
No higher praise from an oyster farmer, I’d say.
We’d asked all of our guests to take notes in order to put together a list of oyster language, one that would help the team at Island Creek expand its own vocabulary. The tasting came just in time – the previously mentioned Island Creek Oyster Bar opening is right around the corner. We needed some ammunition for the restaurant staff and with this tasting, are now awash in new terminology. Listening to Theresa Paopao (of Oleana) describe the buttery taste as not just butter but “lobster butter” was eye opening. We also had Nick Zappia of The Blue Room who chimed in with descriptions like “beefy,” “toothsome,” “lime green,” and “full bodied.” Each oyster brought out a new set of descriptors, giving us, the oyster growers, a new world of words to aim for.
Kai Gagnon from Bergamot, Liz Vilardi from the Blue Room and Central Bottle, and even Rebecca Alssid, culinary director of Boston University (a pioneer in the world of culinary education) were also at the table — it was truly humbling. I did my best to capture as much of their knowledge as possible. For those that have read from the beginning, this was a tasting that I’ve been waiting 18 months to sit through.
Fitting, then, that it should arrive so close to my final days.
It’s true. I’m leaving Island Creek in about three weeks. I’m not quite sure I’m ready to face that final day… so for now, I’ll just say I’m ready to pack a lot in until October 15th.
Lucky for me, we’ve got a restaurant to open.
Mention a hurricane to an oyster farmer and you’ll likely get a weather report. While mostly contradictory, these reports can be useful for their range of entertainment. Part meteorology, part superstition, with a healthy dose of gut instinct thrown in, weather predictions for a hurricane provide hours (and hours) of fascinating farm banter.
A casual polling of Island Creek growers resulted in these thoughts:
Mike George: “Bah. We’ll get 40 mph, easy. But that’s no worse than what it blows like here in the winter. And personally? I don’t care. I’ve got 100 crates stacked up in my cooler right now.”
Gregg Morris: “Of course it won’t rain! I mean, it may rain a little. But not a lot. You know why? Because we prepared early. If I’d left my float on the mooring, we’d get a ton. It’s free insurance!”
Skip Bennett: “Who’s got a blender?”
Lisa Scharoun: “Good boogie boarding this weekend I bet.”
Billy Bennett: “Oh, it looks bad. We’ll probably lose power. Better get those coolers filled with ice.”
And, of course, I picked up a few non oyster farming locals’ thoughts, too:
Guy 1 at True Blue roadside bbq stand: “Whaddya think we’ll get? 60, 70 miles per hour?”
Guy 2: “Nah. 40 easy. Maybe if you’re on the Cape, you’ll see 75. But up here? 50 tops.”
Guy 1: “Humph. I’ll bet it gets up to 60.”
Guy 2: “Yeah, like I said, 60 easy.”
Guy 1: “Nuthin’ like a good storm on the haah-bah.”
Guy 2: “Got that right.”
I love days like today. Despite the shaky predictions on wind gusts and jokes about hurricane parties, and even with Hurricane Earl barreling up the coastline, folks on the farm are in an easy going mood. Summer’s winding down, the guys are taking a three-day weekend. And football season’s right around the corner. Earlier this week, down at the harbor, things weren’t so lighthearted though. In just under 36 hours, about 90% of the boats were taken off their moorings by nervous owners while the growers moved their big floats and loose gear over to the Blue Fish River for safety. I’d show you a picture but my camera’s on the fritz. This morning, the harbor looked a little like this.
As for me, I’ve been neck deep in Oyster Fest planning so the weather only concerns me a little. Worst-case scenario, we get 6+inches of rain tonight which would put us in a rain closure, meaning our growers can’t harvest for up to 4 days. Since we’re about 8 days away from the Fest, I figure even with a closure, we’ll still have about 48 hours to get 35,000 oysters out of the water in time for next Saturday’s festivities. But, you know, no big deal. No amount of fretting or anxiety can stop a hurricane… so we’ll just wait and see.
Speaking of the Fest, if you’re wondering where my posts have been, you can blame it on that big ole 3,000 person party coming up next weekend. Between fretting about when our Duxbury raised pig will get slaughtered, keeping on top of our crazy number of volunteers, and wondering when our t-shirts will arrive, I’ve hardly had time to sleep, let alone blog. All that work, plus a few other things have been keeping me busy…sort of.
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I mean, can I really complain?
Just keep your fingers crossed for good weather next weekend. And hopefully, I’ll see you on the beach.