As featured in Bay Area Bites, October 7, 2009. 155 oysters, 10 minutes, 1 stomach of steel...that's what it takes to be the reigning champ of McCormick & Kuleto's 16th Annual Shuck & Swallow Oyster Challenge. That's right, Team Farallon took down 155 oysters with Ryan Seamus shucking at the speed of light, and Aaron Young showcasing his perfected method of swallowing and spitting.
Young divulged that his secret to success was in keeping a glass of Muscadet wine by his side to rinse out and refresh his palate over the course of downing an absurd number of oysters. He claimed that the acidity of the wine helped to wash out the taste and keep his eye on the prize.
I came home curious to learn more about Young's secret weapon. Wikipedia confirmed that Muscadets are indeed "fresh, crisp, and acidic, light-bodied, and almost always dry with very little, if any residual sugar. Left over carbon dioxide from the bottling process can leave the wines with a slight prickly sensation." Just the kind of sensation one may seek out when trying to cut the buttery flavor and texture of oysters I suspect. As I read on, my suspicions were once again confirmed! Turns out, Jon Bonné, wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, had in fact called Muscadet – the minerally white wine of France’s Loire Valley – "the perfect oyster wine" back in 2005. It was this bold statement that actually led to another bacchanalian oyster-centric event of SF past: The Great Oyster Smackdown of 2007, which pit fresh, fruit-driven West Coast wines against minerally, lean French wines. Check out that gem of an article if you're interested in finding out which wines won out as the best pairing for raw Pacific oysters. Sorry for the digression. Back to the Shuck & Swallow of 2009. Bay Area radio personality Sterling James returned for the 12th year in a row as the presiding Master of Ceremonies, and the Deadlies Band provided some surferdelic tunes for the dozen or so teams (one shucker, 1 swallower) from Bay Area restaurants. Celebrity and media judges included Chef Ryan Scott, Liam Mayclem, host of CBS’s Eye on the Bay, Lynne Char Bennett from SF Chronicle, Sarah Duxbury from SF Business Times, Kathleen Jay from SF Examiner, Matt McFetridge from Northside SF Publications, Erin Roth from WHERE Magazine, Icky from KLLC-FM, Jayn from Alice 97.3, Kimmie Taylor from 102.9 KBLX, among others (including yours truly). There was Blood... Sweat... ...and Oyster Juice. Following the competition, a $30 per person oyster and wine tasting, benefiting The Marine Mammal Center was held. The Marine Mammal Center saves seals, rescues and provides veterinary care for injured marine mammals along 600 miles of California coast, and educates the public about ocean health. 6 different oysters and 12 different wines were featured. My favorites of each were the Sinku Oysters from Denman Island, British Columbia – salty (due to the cold water where they grow), meaty, creamy and rich – and the Morgan Sauvignon Blanc, Monterey, CA 2008 – crisp and apricoty. It may be a long long while until some of yesterday's contestants can even look at an oyster again, but I bet many of the spectators are hooked for life.