The celebration is in the oysters
There’s something special about oysters — they turn an ordinary meal into an extraordinary experience that sticks with people, long after the last oyster has been eaten off the plate.
“For me, oysters are celebratory because they were something that we go out for, either for a birthday or some other special occasion,” says Luna Crawford, a sales associate for Smokey Bay Seafood Group. “It is not an everyday food like chicken or rice; it’s something special.”
Special — and memorable.
For Geoff Browne, a filmmaker who has travelled — and eaten — all over the world, oysters bring a taste of home along with memories filled with friends, parties, and adventures.
He has reams of stories about eating oysters — and staying up late into the night with friends, eating (and eating) oysters.
“For me there’s nostalgia attached to the BC oyster, the Canadian oyster,” Browne says. “It definitely was love at first bite with these fresh oysters.”
Although he lives in Los Angeles now, Browne still vividly remembers visiting Tofino in British Columbia and collecting oysters on the beach with a friend who worked as a fisherman. They would take tourists out for a real Canadian experience: shucking and eating oysters on the beach. Those memories have stuck with Browne, and so have the friendships he made while eating fresh oysters outdoors on the sand, right next to the Pacific Ocean.
And Browne isn’t alone in his warm memories.
“My family spent a lot of time on Vancouver Island and some of my earliest memories of my grandpa were shucking oysters under this big tree with him,” says Evan van Niekerk, an oyster shucker and bar tender at Harbour Oyster + Bar in Vancouver. Working in restaurants that served oysters brought back those memories and reinforced how unique and special oysters are. “When you are introduced to [shucking] by someone, like I was by my grandpa, and they’ve kind of shown how cool and unique it is, it just stands out.”
“Most people’s memories are of going to a beach and looking for these weird rocks, and then learning how to crack them open and get this weird food out of them that at first seems gross but turns out to be pretty good,” van Niekerk says.
Oysters are experiential — they need to be gathered, shucked, prepared, and only then eaten. Entertainment and food, wrapped up in one hard shell. Aside from making the average an adventure, they’re used to mark milestones like engagements, birthdays, anniversaries, promotions.
“I think it’s a unique, special food,” says van Niekerk, who has worked in restaurants where he shucked up to 2,000 raw oysters a day. “You’re not just cooking something. There’s an actual process to it. Someone’s got to open it. People are gathering around watching it. You don’t see it every day.”
His family shucks oysters at their annual Christmas party and it becomes the focal point.
“[Oyster shucking] creates a little bit of a social happening,” van Niekerk says.
With winter around the corner, and many countries experiencing limits on social activities, it can be find hard to find reasons — and ways — to celebrate. But the fun — and the struggle — of shucking oysters at home creates lasting, engaging memories.
“Whenever seafood is involved, raw oysters specifically, I’ve noticed … seafood lifts people’s spirits,” Browne says. “There’s always a celebration somehow when seafood is involved.”
“Now is a more important time to celebrate with oysters at home than any other time, because it is that treat and it lifts up people’s spirits,” Browne says.
“We have shucked oysters in our home for special occasions,” Crawford says. “We make it into a show of who can shuck the oysters best, and we gather around to watch the person shuck. It’s not a food that you grab and go, like a sandwich; it’s not something that is necessary for sustenance. It’s a spectacle, and we treat it as such.”
“Without a shadow of a doubt, if you get fresh oysters delivered to your house and you shuck them yourself … that experience will not be forgotten,” says Browne.
Although oysters are often thought of as summer patio food, the colder seasons actually make for the best eating. Oysters spawn during the summer months, which makes them watery, softer, and less flavourful than those shucked in the fall and winter. Shucking in cooler weather leads to the perfect texture and briny flavour. Fall oysters have spent all summer gaining weight, so they’re extra plump, delicious and loaded with protein.
Browne doesn’t believe there are people who don’t like oysters. He goes out of his way to convert people into oyster fans, especially in the United States, where consumers are more familiar with the Louisiana-style oyster and not British Columbia’s fresh oysters.
“I give [people] a 100 percent guarantee they’re going to love it,” Browne says.
He’s so confident, he’ll take nearly any dare if it means someone will try an oyster. Raw, of course, with just a squeeze of lemon.
By Alli Vail