D Magazine intern Erin Ahlfinger files this report.
As part of Oyster Fest 2012, Fish City Grill held its third annual oyster eating contest at the Preston Road location Sunday afternoon benefiting March of Dimes. The spicy aroma of Cajun seasonings welcomed contestants and attendees as they arrived, and drew in plenty of curious passerby. Blues rock band Prophets and Outlaws provided entertainment and a touch of southern atmosphere as crawfish bubbled away in a pot large enough to hold a meeting in. The mudbugs were a supplemental attraction. This was Oyster Fest, and the bivalve mollusk would rule the day.
For those who prefer cooked oysters to the raw variety, Fish City Grill Executive Chef Randy Morgan manned the grill preparing lemon butter and parmesan chargrilled oysters. Some 1200 raw gulf oysters had been shucked and waited in a refrigerated truck for the competition to begin.
Every member of each team of four would be given 30 seconds to inhale as many oysters as they could stomach for the sake of pride, philanthropy, and a three days and two nights in New Orleans. As the teams and judges were introduced, a small army of servers delivered the shiny trays of shellfish in a processional-style display of pageantry known as “the running of the oysters.”
Six teams received two hundred oysters and five minutes to dress them to their liking. Every condiment from horseradish and lemon juice to Worcestershire sauce was readily available, but the teams used the majority of these five minutes to strategize. They formed huddles. They uttered rallying cries and last minute preparations – from arranging even rows to placing a tiny plastic oyster fork in every single mollusk – were finalized.
Right after the starting signal sounded, slurping noises quickly faded into cheers from the crowd. An increasing number of teary-eyed faces looked up from the battle line. These were not the tears of dedicated culinary athletes wrapped up in the exhilaration that can only come from devouring an oyster per second with minimal chewing. These were the tears of contestants who had been too liberal with the horseradish.
In the end, team I Touched the Butt took home the shell-studded trophy after collectively inhaling 103 oysters in two minutes. They managed to beat out second place team Halfshells by only three. If you were considering taking up competitive eating in your spare time, winning team member Andrea Buchanan has a few words of wisdom to impart. “Drink lots of booze,” she advises. “It lubricates the throat.”
Fish City Grill donated 100% of proceeds from the competition to March of Dimes, in addition to a percentage of their sales from the event. By the time the last empty shell was collected and the final lemon wedge had been squeezed, over $2,000 had been raised to fund research aimed at preventing premature births.