On Tuesday I was lucky enough to be a guest at the British Oyster Opening Championship held in Baker Street, London. The event was sponsored by Tabasco. I’ve never been to a corporate event or any sort of business trip before, and I have to say it was a fantastic experience. I can see now why people say they’re great for networking. There was also a lady shucker there who actually recognised me from Mehalah’s (where I chef), so that was pretty cool for me as that never happens!
My boyfriend, Tom, is eighth generation oysterman and runs his father’s business, Richard Haward’s Oysters. They are the oldest oyster farmers in England and Tom is very passionate about continuing with his family’s legacy. He is like a walking encyclopedia for oysters and seafood in general – which he has inherited from his dad, Richard, and his mother, Heather. Not only is Tom a great businessman, he is also an excellent shucker.
Tom started shucking oysters when he was just 11 years old as his mum started the renowned Company Shed in West Mersea. Ever since, he has entered the shucking competetion at the dredging match most years in West Mersea, which takes place on the Packing Shed (watch this space for another blog post!), and he won it last year. But he has never entered a national competetion before until this year.
Richard Haward’s oysters export oysters to Spain, Taiwan and China. They also have a stall at Borough Market in London. Tom decided to enter this competition after Sam, who runs Borough Market for London, entered himself and asked if Tom was interested. Sam also runs his own shucking business and is available for hire.
Upon arrival, competitors and guests were given a choice of champagne, guinness, peach cordial, or water (which were in fact available throughout the entire event) and competitors had to pick a number to see when they would be competing. There were 20 contestants and they comepted against one another over four rounds. They had to open 30 natives as quickly as they could, with points being deducted for presentation; contestants lost points for things such as blood on the oyster, shell in the oyster and damaging the meat.
I can shuck oysters and I’m planning on entering the dredging match competition this weekend, but some of the contestants were unreal. It was really interesting to see other peoples techniques and how pressure can get to you. The winner from last year, also won this year with a time of 2.47. He was absolutely rapid! I’ve never seen someone shuck like it and apparently he’s fifth best in the world so fair play.
While the competition was happening, varous canapes were brought round for the guests to sample. Unfortunately, I was too busy trying to get pictures of the shucking event to get pictures of all of the food, but I can tell you they were bloody delicious. And who doesn’t love free food?
Tom did so well, he won his heat, opening 30 native oysters in 3.25 but unfortunately lost points for presentation, but it’s something he’s going to work on for next year so he can enter again. I felt immense pride to be there with him and support him. It was a great experience and a really fun event to attend. I think it’s great that huge companies such as Tabasco and Guinness sponsor events and don’t charge competitors for their entry or their guests.