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Career Day

Career Day: The Oyster Shucker

By Alix Strauss

Patrick McMurray – a.k.a. “Shucker Paddy” – is professional oyster shucker, restaurateur, cookbook author, and “oyster sommelier.”

How did you get into the oyster business?
In 1997, in between applying to teacher’s college after obtaining my university degree in Kinesiology, I ended up working at Rodney’s Oyster House in Toronto. The job was too much fun. I learned a heck of a lot. And I got a great shucking technique. That led me to open up my first restaurant, Starfish, in 2002. I started talking about oysters like a sommelier speaks of wine, and customers loved it.

Why oysters?
I loved the taste, flavor, and the different types of oysters. It’s the true taste of the ocean. The oyster can take you to that location, evoke memories and thoughts. I can’t think of any other food that can do that. I also love what happens around the oyster bar.

What does it mean to be an “oyster sommelier?”
An oyster sommelier has a high level of knowledge and understands the world of oysters. We’re able to speak about the oyster’s appellation — where it’s grown, how it’s grown, who grew it, the taste, the flavor range and seasonality — while being able to explain it in a specific way so customers understand. It really parallels the wine world more than anything else, so it’s the easiest word to use to describe the job. 

How many different types of oysters are there
There are five different species of oysters available in North America. And hundreds, if not thousands, of different varieties from that.

It really parallels the wine world more than anything else, so ‘sommelier’ is the easiest word to use to describe the job.

Do oysters really have different tastes and consistencies?
Yes. There’s the classic Malpeque, which is salty-sweet. The Kelly’s Galway Bay, which is like sweet cream, driftwood, seaweed, wet stone, and has a dry, metallic finish. Irish oysters taste like the air from the west. The Olympia is the smallest of all oysters, and it melts in the palate with sea salt, butter fresh cut grass, earthy notes, and a dry metallic, copper finish.

What makes for the perfect oyster?
Perfection in oysters starts with location, paired with minerals and nutrients generated from the surrounding land, which affects the flavors. How someone grows the oyster affects the shell, and if they move or transfer the oyster from, say, ocean side to a high tide salt pond — where the oyster can eat algae and fatten up — it will improve the final flavor and texture. 

How many oysters can you open in a minute? 
My Guinness record is 39 in one minute. 

What’s the correct way to open an oyster? 
My technique is table-top hinge, which means inserting a blade into the shell from a naturally strong point in order to open it up. That allows me speed and the ability to create a cleaner oyster with less grit and cuts — and opened as if it opened itself.

Why are oysters considered an aphrodisiac?
Technically speaking, oysters contain the largest amount of zinc in any natural food source. Zinc boosts immunity and helps release testosterone in the body, for both males and females, thus driving the libido. Sounds sexy, doesn’t it? 

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Alix Strauss is a writer based in New York.

Illustration by Verónica Grech

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