Top oyster shuckers and seafood chefs recognized at Coast Day’s culinary competitions
A lively shucking contest added oysters to clam chowder and crab cakes as the seafood highlights this year at Coast Day, the University of Delaware’s annual celebration of the sea at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes.
Local seafood companies and restaurants partnered with Delaware Sea Grant for the new oyster-shucking contest, where competitors received 12 oysters per round to neatly open while on the clock. Judges assessed the quality of the finished trays and added time as a penalty for broken shells, sliced oysters and other slip-ups.
Ed Bell, a clam and oyster harvester from Virginia, clocked in under 2 minutes and took first place. While many shuckers like to start by popping open an oyster’s hinge, Bell said, he prefers to slide a short, thin knife in along the side.
“You have to develop your own technique and what works best for you,” Bell advised. “I don’t think there’s any one secret to it.”
Celso Morales of Fins Fish House and Raw Bar came in second, and James Frazier was awarded third place. The top three placers received $1,000, $500 and $250 cash prizes, respectively, provided by contest sponsors Broadwater Oyster Company, Big Fish Wholesale Seafood Company, Henlopen City Oyster House, Fins Fish House and Raw Bar, Lobster Shanty and Shore Property Maintenance. Broadwater Oyster Company, which grows and ships live shellfish to distributors, retailers and seafood restaurants, also provided the oysters.
Nearby at the Seafood Chowder Challenge, almost 700 Coast Day attendees helped determine the winner between two savory recipes. Representing the First State Chefs Association, Tom Howell’s Delmarva Clam Chowder eked out a narrow win over Oertel Catering’s recipe, with a narrow margin of 20 votes determining the winner.
Howell, a culinary arts instructor with Delaware Tech, included candied pepper bacon as the standout ingredient for his chowder. Shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes and smoked sweet corn added unconventional twists.
The longest-running Coast Day seafood competition, the Crab Cake Cook-Off, featured eight contestants vying for the title of Delaware’s Best Crab Cakes.
Monty Jones of Ocean Pines, Md., won first prize and the privilege of returning next year as a judge. His Eastern Shore Imperial Crab Cakes combined blue crab meat with Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and Texas Pete hot sauce for a subtle tanginess.
Last year’s second-place finisher came in second again this year: Denise Vansant of Rehoboth Beach with her Bawlmer Lady Crab Cakes with Chesapeake Bay Yogurt Tartar Sauce.
Cindy McClure of Malvern, Pa., took third place with her CC’s Coastal Blue Crab Cakes that included shrimp, corn and mustard seeds.
“The judges said that all of the contestants were outstanding,” said seafood contest organizer Doris Hicks, a seafood technology specialist with Delaware Sea Grant. “It was not an easy decision.”
The winning crab cake and chowder recipes can be found at www.decoastday.org. Click on Media Center in pull down menu and open "Top oyster shuckers, seafood chefs recognized..." press release.
Sponsored by the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment and the Delaware Sea Grant College Program, Coast Day attracts thousands of visitors to learn about marine resources with fun, engaging activities. Next year’s event is set for Sunday, Oct. 5, and updated information will be available at www.decoastday.org.