Out-shucking the guys
Though she’s a champion oyster shucker, Deborah Pratt couldn’t sleep the night before this year’s competition at Seafood Expo North America. She knew it was going to be a tough contest.
“I’ve been praying all day, ‘Deborah you gotta take it back to Virginia,’” said Pratt, who works for the Virginia Marine Products Board.
But Pratt felt better after she received a call from her 10-year-old granddaughter, Sydni Scott. She told her she had just won her basketball game and that she was praying for her “Grandma D” to be a winner too.
And she was. Pratt became the 2014 winner on Monday with an adjusted time of 1 minute, 30 seconds.
“It feels very great to be a winner here,” said Pratt, who is also the first female winner of the Boston contest. “I’ve been coming quite a while, and I’m just very pleased to win.”
She faced some formidable competition at the 8th annual competition. The 15 shuckers included 2013 winner Keith Rose of Wellfleet Fisheries and 2012 winner David Leck of Ballard Fish & Oyster. Also among the competitors was William “Chopper” Young of Chopper’s Choice Oysters. Young is a four-time Boston oyster-shucking champion, but hasn’t competed since 2010.
“I see quite a few tough guys,” said Pratt. “These young guys are out to get Deborah so I’m going to stand my ground.”
The competition’s emcee, Patrick McMurray, said Pratt’s pristine plate presentation helped secure her win. Shuckers have to be fast, but judges will take seconds off if oysters are gritty, flipped or banged up in any way.
“It’s one of those things. It’s not how fast you go. It’s how well you do it,” said McMurray.
She and second-place winner Steve Boreen of Benjamin’s Raw Bar in Newport, R.I., were both commended for having the best-looking plates in their heats. Boreen’s total adjusted time was 1 minute, 49 seconds.
Third-place winner Leck’s time was 1 minute, 55 seconds. Allison Paine from Paine Hollow Oyster Co. and Daniel Notkin from the Old Port Fishing Co. took fourth and fifth place with adjusted times of 1 minute, 58 seconds, and 2 minutes, 5 seconds, respectively.
The top five received cash prizes for their shucking skills with $700 for first place, $400 for second place, $200 for third, $100 for fourth and $50 for the fifth-place contestant.
This year’s competition was judged by Skip Bennett, owner of Island Creek Oyster Bar, Joseph Milano, owner of the Union Oyster House and Tim Rapine, managing director of Ballard Fish & Oyster Co.
Contestants shucked a dozen oysters with six each from the East and West coasts. Cherrystone Aqua-Farms, the oyster sponsor for the competition, provided Atlantic oysters. Ballard Fish & Oyster Co. provided the Pacific oysters.