Leck is one tough shucker


Melissa Wood, SeaFood Business assistant editor

Published on
March 11, 2012

Wearing a black T-shirt with the slogan, “Get shucked up,” David Leck shook up the 6th annual oyster shucking competition at the International Boston Seafood Show by beating two dozen strong contenders that included last year’s winner, Jorge Hernandez.

“It was difficult,” said Leck, whose final, adjusted shucking time for a dozen oysters was 1 minute, 23.5 seconds. “Everybody here’s really good. I pulled through. I didn’t think I was going to win. I was surprised.”

Not everybody was as surprised as Leck, who works at Taylor Shellfish Farms retail store and oyster bar in the Melrose Market in Seattle, and has been a tough competitor on the oyster-shucking circuit on which he has been competing for 11 years and in more than 60 contests. Born and bred in Seattle, Leck has been around seafood his whole life.

“It’s all about feel,” he said. “When you’re shucking, at that point you have the adrenaline kick in and go as fast as you can.”

To get the top spot, for which he earned a prize of USD 700, Leck had to beat last year’s winner, Hernandez, who placed second at 1 minute, 28.20 seconds. He was followed by Daniel Notkin at 1 minute, 29.68 seconds, Juan Cordova at 1 minute, 49.43 seconds and Max Sied at 1 minute, 55.82 seconds. The second- through fifth-place finishers took home USD 400, USD 200, USD 100 and USD 50, respectively.

“It’s been remarkable, the amount of really talented young shuckers and older shuckers,” said James Martin, head judge and chef/owner of 85 Main restaurant in Putnam, Conn., who also hosts the 85 Main Shuck-Off every May. Martin said the event was the largest oyster competition he had ever taken a part in, in terms of the number of very talented competitors.

William “Chopper” Young, a world champion shucker and the undefeated champion for the contest’s first four years, agreed that the level of talent has been brought to a new level in Boston.

“I’ve met some new faces here. I’m pretty impressed by the handshakes,” said Young, who called shucking a strength game that also required a finesse to avoid busting up the delicate oysters. “You gotta have the strength, you know. It’s like a two-sided knife. It takes a lot to throw a punch but it takes even more to stop it.”

Young said he began judging oyster-shucking competitions a year ago when Mohegan Sun asked him to step into a judging spot after he won its competition five times.

While he enjoys being a judge he also misses the competition. When asked if he’d ever compete in the Boston contest again he said, “One never knows.”

The contestants shucked oysters in two first-round speed trials, and seven competed in the final round, where contestants were also judged on the presentation of their oysters with time penalties for broken shells, grit and placement on the shell.

Besides Martin, judges also included James LeDuc, seafood category manager for Agar Supply; Adam Alderin, chef for Jumpin Jay’s Fish Café in Portsmouth, N.H.; and Richard Vallente, corporate execute chef for Legal Sea Foods in Boston. Oysters were donated by Cherrystone Aqua Farms in Cheriton, Va., and Penn Cove Shellfish in Coupeville, Wash.

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