There’s something about Whistler that reminds me of my home town Brighton; oh, not in appearance, it couldn’t be different. Pristine and shiny, thoroughly modern Whistler is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, its inhabitants all seem to be like the girl or boy from Ipanema, all tall and tan and young and lovely. Whereas my beloved Brighton, in the words of Keith Waterhouse, “… looks as though it is a town helping the police with their enquiries.” But there is something in that ‘determined to have a good time even though it’s clearly hours past your bed time’ Brighton spirit that burns in Whistler too.
I recognised it the second I clapped eyes on the Bearfoot Bistro’s Chief Bad Decision Enabler, Andre Saint-Jacques, so no surprise at all that some of the best fun to be had in BC is always at his restaurant. The Bearfoot World Oyster Invitational and Bloody Caesar Battle took place this Sunday. A charity fund raiser for Playground Builders, an excellent Canadian charity who build playgrounds in areas of the world affected by wars. By the end of the afternoon enough money had been raised to construct three playgrounds in Afghanistan. So I’m not going to feel a jot of guilt about anything that happens here.
Two contests were in play – six mixologists battling it out for the honour of the best Bloody Caesar (it’s a much-beloved Canadian drink – essentially a Bloody Mary with clam juice added) as well as the fastest oyster shucker contest. I couldn’t wait to see the shuckers in action, 13 competed from as far afield as Sweden, Denmark and Japan. Before the doors opened the judges got stuck into the cocktails, everyone else got to sample the six different kinds from booths set up around the restaurant and downstairs in its famous champagne cellar – which is usually where you’ll find M. Saint Jaques merrily sabering a champagne bottle or two. Along with the caesars, wine flowed freely and we were kept from slumping to the ground by a stream of bite-sized goodies from Chef Melissa Craig’s kitchen.
By the time the shucking contest came around it’s fair to say that everyone was feeling at their most Whistler-ish and the cheers were deafening. The rules are strict in these contests and closely adhered to. Each shucker is presented with a tray of three varieties of oyster, they have to shuck 30 and present them “upright, free from shell and blood in a whole top shell.” They are scored not only on time but also the appearance, presence of shell, grit and the cut of the meat. I was fascinated: each shucker had such a different technique, from the sorting at the start – some piled them like legos, others lined them up neatly – some wore gloves, others went in bare-handed (one was bare-footed) and others wound tape around their fingers. Each shucker has a timer and each heat must begin with the shuckers hands in the air above their oysters and the one to finish first must raise their hands again.
The first heat was over in a matter of minutes. It was shockingly fast. They tore through those shells like hot knives through butter; it was fantastic to watch. There were four heats in all and then a final round. My two favourites, Noriko Kamashima from Japan who shucked in a gloriously calm fashion with a beatific smille on her face and the looks-a-bit-like-Eric-off-True-Blood Dane, Simon Toensager didn’t make it, so I had to pick a new favourite from the finalists. I went with the only shucker to have cleaned the shells from his station to save the Bearfoot staff the trouble, the beaming bearded Eamon Clark from Rodney’s Oyster House in Toronto who was the 2011 champion.
Turns out I can pick a winner. Eamon finished fastest and also – after a l-o-n-g deliberation by the judges – came out top on points. He scored a $5000 prize, a huge trophy that I wouldn’t have liked to try and take back on the plane and a whole year of bragging rights. I didn’t do so well guessing the best caesar. I liked Justin Taylor’s from Yew at the Four Seasons in Vancouver best, but local lad Scot Curry from the Alta Bistro scooped the $5000 instead. Full of nitro vanilla ice cream, awash with caesars and feeling like a girl who should go lie down somewhere, I sat on the stairs outside and waited for the Pacific Coach to pick me up. I’d stare out of the window on the two-hour trip back to Vancouver at the dazzling sea and mountain scenery on the lyrically-named ‘Sea to Sky’ highway, I might have been far from Brighton but oh – that town is starting to feel like home.
I travelled as a guest of the Bearfoot Bistro – thanks for that! Also thanks to Pacific Coach for the return ticket. As ever – my opinions are 100% my own.