A crowd of eager festival-goers gathered around the bandstand on West End Avenue in Oyster Bay last Saturday, awaiting the highly anticipated oyster shucking and eating contest at the 35th annual Oyster Festival.
Four competitors had signed up for the shucking contest. Event sponsor Frank M. Flowers & Sons provided rubber aprons, utility gloves and oysters, but the “master shuckers” wielded their own knives. Emcee Jim Kerr, from Q104.3’s “Rock & Roll Morning Show,” revved up the crowd as the competition began.
With four minutes on the timer, the shuckers attacked their respective piles of oyster, digging into the marbled shells and exposing the briny bites in mere seconds. The competitors’ faces were scrunched in determination, their hands moving quickly as they maneuvered the knife in and around the half-hollow mollusks. Their elbows cocked in and out as they shucked each oyster skillfully. After the contest they each enjoyed a well-earned oyster fresh from the shell.
Mattituck native Kristopher Ocker took first place, shucking 33 oysters. A tie for second required a pulse-racing “shuck-off” between Dave Mahnken, of upstate Poughkeepsie, and hometown favorite Brad Launer, of Oyster Bay. After a heated minute and 30 seconds, Launer was awarded second-place, winning by a single oyster.
Once the remnants of shucked shells were cleared away, aluminum tins filled to the brim with oysters were lined up on the table for the eating contest. Among the 12 competitors were the 2017 oyster-eating champion ,Shawn Leonard, of Cold Spring Harbor, and his cousin Dave Leonard, who once devoured 480 oysters in a contest. This was his first competition in 19 years.
Once they were given the go-ahead, the Leonards — employing the same strategy — scooped up their plates, sucking the oysters right out of the tins. When time ran out, the judges counted the containers and deemed Dave the winner. He had eaten 156 oysters in 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Shawn came in second, having downed 24 fewer oysters than his cousin.