"Slurpers wanted for a week of oyster parties, classes, panels, and dinners."
The post on social media outlets read like a foodie's dream job want ad. Events around Portland, OR would include food, craft beer, drinks, and of course oysters. In a city known for its celebrations of food (and cocktails), it's no surprise that talented people would come together with the debut of Shuck Portland. Also not surprising was the intention to bring awareness and raise money to support oyster habitats.
The idea for Shuck Portland started with a conversation between Lyf Gildersleeve, owner of Flying Fish Co. and Maylin Chavez, chef/owner of Olympia Oyster Bar. “We have this amazing bounty on the West Coast and we want to bring attention to it,” says Chavez. “We want to have a good time, eat and drink and do what Portlanders do best, while bringing awareness to our ecosystem.” The two reached out to their friends in the industry, including Tournant’s Jaret Foster, and seasoned event producer Natalia Toral, and founded Shuck Portland.
An intimate oyster social pop-up teased the week’s start with guest chef Shauna Galante of Secret Language PDX at Tournant, a charming culinary event space that offers boutique catering by owners Foster and Mona Johnson. As Johnson put it: “We love filling our beautiful space with oyster-loving cheer.”
The official kick-off party, Portland in a Half Shell, set the tone for what was to be a fun-filled boozy week. Held at The Nightwood, an event space created by a group of multi talented women named The Nightwood Society, the open floor plan was wall-to-wall oyster shuckers. Many of them being the farmers who raised them. Ranging in a variety of size and flavor, it was hard to choose a favorite. Who knew there were so many varieties of oysters in the Pacific Northwest! Luckily, there were plenty of cocktails mixed by Brandy Feit--formerly of Headwaters now set to open Palomar, and Matt Mount with Merit Badge--a craft cocktail and bar catering service in the PNW. My favorite was the Smoky Island: Bowmore Islay single malt, smoked honey, and Scrappy's Black Lemon Bitters.
Olympia Oyster Bar hosted a sold out Mezcal and Oyster Academy where guests were schooled by Hama Hama Oyster Farm on all things oysters. Most important to some: how to properly shuck an oyster. Chavez’s Baja twist spiced up the recipes and perfectly accompanied the mezcal tasting presented by Sofia Acosta with Mezcal Amores/Amaras.
A casual craft beer-focused oyster social took place at Gigantic Brewing where they released their Nevormind Oyster Stout on nitro. Like many of the events, partial proceeds were donated to the Wetland Conservancy and Friends of Netarts Bay.
Wine lovers enjoyed a Pineau des Charentes pairing with pacific oysters at EaT: An Oyster Bar. Pineau is fortified wine, blended of slightly fermented grape must and Cognac, aged in oak barrels. I’m apparently one of the few people who doesn’t like chicken and waffles ,so it seemed odd to pair a sweet aperitif with a briny bivalve, but it was well-received by other guests.
Educating oyster fans was an important part of the Shuck Portland mission. A free (donations encouraged) panel discussion was held to highlight conservation, native species, activism, policy, status of wetlands, and forestry practices. Well-informed speakers kept the conversation positive and interesting. At times humor from moderator Gildersleeve kept the evening light and entertaining. Adding to the event, more delicious oysters, flavorful chowder and pozole from Tournant, refreshing wine from Proud Pour (who pair their wines with solutions to local environmental problems). Their North Coast Sauvignon Blanc restores 100 wild oysters per bottle--a win-win in my book. Local brewers Pono Brewing and Migration Brewing were on hand for hop lovers. I especially enjoyed the oyster porter featuring Hama Hama oysters.
Migration also hosted its own beer pairing dinner during the week long festivities. The 8-course dinner featured special beers including: Hama Mamma Oyster Stout, a collaboration beer with Trever Bass of Hopworks, and Hama Hama Oysters; Canadian Tuxedo Pilsner collaboration Beer with Widmer’s experimental brew team; Barrel-Aged Frankie Belgian Chocolate Stout. Before the feast, food and travel writer Jennifer Burns Bright led a special talk on the traditions and challenges of seafood in Oregon.
Flying Fish Co. had a fun-filled event with a hands-on class deemed Oysters 101. The casual environment was intent on getting aprons dirty and stomachs full. “Students” were schooled on methods to boil, BBQ, broil, and shuck like a pro. Laughter flowed as well as the Campari, America’s Bulldog Gin cocktail from Brandon Derrick.
The grand finale was a 7-course progressive dinner back where it all began at The Nightwood. Welcoming dishes designed by the evening’s hosts Chavez, Foster, and Gildersleeve (who’s family recipe of Smoked King Salmon Belly was to die for). Individual seated courses were presented by Portland icon Chef Vitaly Paley and Chef Matthew Jarrell of The Crown and Imperial, Hama Hama Oyster Saloon Chef Shawn Mitchell and Marco Pinchot of Chelsea Farm. Paley is consistently involved in multiple dining events around Portland. I’m convinced he’s cloned or has a secret twin. He is in all the best spots offering quality meals--and this one no exception--virtually all at the same time. Perhaps he is a superhero who just wears a cape backwards and calls it an apron.
Oyster addicts unable to attend one of the many sold out events could partake at one of the many participating restaurants featuring an oyster related dish and donating a percentage. My picks were the Eat: an Oyster Bar’s Angels and Devils: Oysters Diablo with spiced tomato sauce and parmesan cheese paired with an Angel's Envy Kentucky Mule. Buckman House featured $1 oysters all day (um, yes please), Trifecta Tavern blew me away with a baked oyster dish (so flavorful!), but it was their featured cocktail that stole the show. The Shuck Week Martini featured Aviation Gin, Mignonette, Dolin dry vermouth, Jacobson Sea Salt, and a house-pickled onion. Flavorful, eye opening, and perfectly balanced. Just like my week at Shuck Portland.