Get ready to slurp — the second annual Edible Mollusk Festival and Oyster Eating Contest returns to the Timbers on Saturday, April 16, and this year’s festival promises to be better — and tastier — than ever.
“The Edible Mollusk Festival and Oyster Eating Contest was created last year to highlight the grand opening of the new Edible Mollusk Exhibit at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum,” said festival chairperson Clair Beckmann. “It was so much fun that we decided to do it again — thanks to Matt Asen and Mark Blust from the Timbers and Prawnbrokers Restaurant Group, who will be providing the venue, oysters, and some staffing for the event.”
And according to Beckmann, the highlight of the 2010 event was the Oyster Eating Contest — Al Marti took last year’s champion title — which is composed of 60-second “heats” in which contestants try to consume as many raw oysters as possible in under a minute.
If you can find someone who’s up to the task for this year’s contest, it costs $250 to sponsor a contestant, who are also encouraged to collect additional pledges from friends and family. If you can’t find someone with suitable stomach capacity but would still like to help in some way, contact the Shell Museum for more information on corporate sponsorship and donation opportunities.
“The event has quickly become a community event and has even created some friendly competition between like businesses,” said Mark Blust, noting one oyster-eating rivalry in particular — Sanibel-Captiva Community Bank versus Bank of the Islands.
This year’s Oyster Eating Contest panel of celebrity judges include Dan Schuyler, Ric Base, Judie Zimomra, Anne Joffe and Kevin Ruane.
Clay Miller from NBC-2 will once again be the master of ceremonies — and might even eat an oyster or two.
“We’ll also have a children’s craft booth — set up by famous shell crafter Anne Joffe — and Miss Silvia will be painting faces,” Beckmann said. “We’ll also have oysters, beer and other food for sale and talks about edible mollusks from Dr. Jose Leal and Matt Asen.”
Matt Asen says he’s always been an oyster-slurper, but after the success of last year’s inaugural event, he began doing research on different types of oysters in preparation for the 2011 Edible Mollusk Festival.
“I became oyster obsessed! Beginning last June and continuing throughout the fall, I ate and saved the top and bottom shell of over 200 different named oysters,” Asen said, noting that he also created an exhibit based on his research and won a third place ribbon at the Sanibel Shell Fair. His exhibit is now on display at the Shell Museum.
“The event is a big fundraiser for the museum and a fun, educational — and culinary — treat for the community, as Chef Teh will be preparing lesser known but equally delicious mollusks such as baby octopus and cuttlefish, along with oysters, clams, squid and escargot,” Asen said. “It will also be a great opportunity for people to compare the different types of oysters. In addition to the Apalachicola (Florida) oyster, we will be offering oysters from New England, the Canadian Maritime Provinces, Washington State and British Columbia. Grilled oysters will also be available for those who prefer there mollusks cooked!”
All proceeds raised during the festival will go to benefit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.
“It is a fundraising event, but we’re not aiming for huge amounts,” said Shell Museum Curator and Director Dr. Jose Leal. “It’s more of a friend-raiser — this way we can expose the Shell Museum to not only the regular weekend visitors but also to the locals. We really want to extend an invitation to everyone in the community to come join us for this wonderful event. It’s free and it’s a great opportunity to just hang out and have some fun. We’re all really looking forward to it.”
And while admission to the event is free, raffle tickets are available for purchase at the Shell Museum until April 16. Tickets are $10 each — or three for $25.
The raffle prize for this year’s festival is a sterling silver double strand of pearls featuring a large teardrop-shaped mother of pearl with aquamarine beads and blue topaz accents, donated by Lily and Co. Jewelers.
The second annual Edible Mollusk Festival and Oyster Eating Contest — sponsored by the Shell Museum, Timbers, Caloosa Tent and Lily & Co. — will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Timbers Restaurant and Fish Market is located at 703 Tarpon Bay Road on Sanibel.
For further information or to register as a sponsor or oyster eater, call festival chairperson Clair Beckmann at 472-4524 — and if you’re going to sign up, keep this advice from Beckmann in mind: “Slurp fast, slurp furious and may the best slurper win.”