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About Shucking Time

Oyster Fest Returns This Weekend

It’s finally that shucking time of the year again. This weekend (5.30-5.31), the New Orleans Oyster Festival is back for its sixth year. The free festival, which takes place at Woldenburg Park, features live music, crafts, eating contests and perhaps most obviously, oysters. 


In 2006, two oyster icons, Lucien Gunter of Acme Oyster House and Sal Sunseri of P&J Oyster Co., decided it was time for New Orleans to honor the product that has become such a staple of New Orleans’ food culture. 


“We discussed having [the New Orleans Oyster Festival] due to the fact that there was no oyster festival in New Orleans, which is the oyster capital of America,” Sunseri said. “We felt that we needed to celebrate the restaurants, the chefs and the farmers that have created such an incredible bounty and historical food culture for the city and the region. It was certainly overdue.” 


Despite some continued problems caused by the 2010 BP oil spill, Sunseri says the festival is still thriving. 


“We’re already the second best oyster festival in the country and we’re only in our 6th year,” he said.  “We’ve made some major leaps in reference to our success and our following.”


The fest highlights all aspects of the oyster from those who farm them to those who consume them and even to those who use the shells once they’re eaten. 


Festival-goers can purchase crafts from local vendors, most of which involve or are made from oysters. 


“It’s really cool stuff,” Sunseri said. “[The artisans] have to have something that either relates to oysters, the coast, New Orleans or Louisiana.”


Crafts aren’t the only thing to view at the festival. The weekend also touts three food-related contests. On Saturday (5.30), P&J Oyster Co. sponsors an oyster-shucking contest. Throughout the weekend attendees can also check out New Orleans Fish House’s largest oyster contest. 


Lastly, the festival will feature the Acme Oyster House oyster eating competition. On Sunday (5.31), 12 professional eaters, including last year’s winner Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, will compete to see who can consume the most ice-cold oysters. 


“The eating is interesting,” Sunseri said. “You can’t really turn your head from it.”


While listening to live music from bands such as Treme Brass Band and The Mulligan Brothers, attendees can eat as many oysters as their hearts and wallets desire. 


Restaurants in attendance at the event include Jacques-Imo's Café, Acme Oyster House, Drago’s and Antoine's. Each menu is unique. Festival-goers can try anything from oyster dressing stuffed mushrooms to shrimp and oyster egg rolls. But of course, the classic oyster dishes will make an appearance as well. 


Part of the proceeds of the New Orleans Oyster Festival goes to beneficiaries who want to help restore oyster reefs and coastal areas in Louisiana. This year’s three beneficiaries are Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana: Oyster Shell Recycling Program, ORA Estuaries:  OysterBreak™, and Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation: Artificial Reef Program & Planting Oyster Shell on Public Reefs. 


Sunseri said that the festival is a good way to give back to the community, while also showcasing the oyster industry to the city. 


“[New Orleans] is already one of the foodie capitals of the nation,” he said. “We have embraced that and been able to do some good things with it.”

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