Josh Bishop, right, competes against fellow Ottawa resident Jesse Papastavros in the Raspberry Point International Oyster Shucking Championship at the P.E.I. Shellfish Festival in Charlottetown Sunday. Bishop is proprietor of The Whalesbone and Elmdale Oyster House and Tavern, while Papastavros is one of his employees.
After only two years of calling the Charlottetown Events Grounds home, the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish seems to have once again outgrown itself.
The 18th annual celebration of P.E.I. shellfish keeps getting larger and larger and this year was no exception.
The four-day festival, which is the biggest signature Fall Flavours event, saw every day except for Sunday sell out, said chair Liam Dolan.
That’s a first for the festival, which Dolan originally created as a way to extend P.E.I. tourism into the shoulder season.
“It just shows that it’s taken on a life of its own and has become extremely important,” said Dolan. “It’s the biggest yet, absolutely. It’s been phenomenal.
“We turned away three or four hundred people yesterday (Saturday)... I felt bad.”
The festival was previously held on the city’s waterfront before outgrowing the venue and re-locating in 2012.
Last year saw well over 7,000 pack the festival tent, many of whom came from out of province.
With the tent having been expanded this year, Dolan said he expects an even higher number from this past weekend.
“We’ve almost outgrown this one to a certain degree,” he said.
The festival also kept the crowd entertained with Food Network cooking demonstrations, East Coast music and international oyster shuckers and chefs competing for more than 24,000 in prizes.
The festival ended with the Raspberry Point Oyster Shucking Championship on Sunday.
While some of the world’s best were competing, one stood out from the rest.
That was Daniel Notkin, who was representing the Old Port Fishing Company in Montreal and his restaurant Notkin’s, which will be opening this December.
Notkins said the trick to winning was a delicate balance between both cleanliness and speed.
“There are people cleaner (than me) but you have to make that judgment in balance,” said Notkin. “Everyone will tell you I’m the nerdiest shucker and prepper around. I will go through it in my head and visualize it.
“There is a lot of visualization and hand-eye coordination.”
Notkin said winning was an honour.
“You see the best shuckers in the world on any given day here,” he said. “To win it, I’m super thrilled.”
Apart from the crowd and competitions, the Island products and offerings at the festival have also been built upon.
Originally focusing on mussels and oysters, the festival now includes all types of products from P.E.I., including chowders and potatoes.
The festival event also saw the competing chefs given tours of P.E.I.’s potato farms and mussel and oyster plants.
“They see how it’s all produced so they can tell their customers ‘this is where my mussels or oyster come from’,” said Dolan. “It (the festival) is doing what it’s supposed to be right now, its promoting P.E.I. all the food. It doesn’t necessarily have to be just mussels and oysters.”
It’s those producers and growers who are the real winners from the festival, said Notkin.
“It’s one thing to shuck a nice and clean plate but you’ve got to have great oysters to do that,” he said. “P.E.I. grows some of the best oysters in the world. And to be able to bring those in and have great oysters, that’s the real success.
“The oyster growers are the guys that put in the effort.”
Dolan said the festival, which kept restaurants, hotels and bars busy all weekend, isn’t possible without the help of volunteers.
“I’d like to thank all the groups and volunteers involved,” he said. “Some people have told me they’ll never miss it (the festival) again… it’s their annual vacation.”