Aw shucks

Tres Hundertmark insists there's nothing inherently difficult about prying oysters from their shells.

"It's really just a matter of pushing the point of the knife as far as you can," Hundertmark, executive chef at The Lobster Trap, explains. Unsuccessful shuckers, he says, are usually felled by uncooperative tools, such as screwdrivers, paring knives and dull oyster knives intended to finish the job steam started.

"I wouldn't give my knife to someone in the restaurant, especially if they've been drinking," he adds, referring to the $13 one-and-one-half-inch blade he favors.

But even Hundertmark concedes sprint shucking is a trickier business: Brittle shells, hard-to-find hinges and oversized oysters, like the shoe-sized ones that showed up at The Lobster Trap earlier this month, can drastically slow the shucking process. Turning out a dozen oysters on the half-shell in under a minute is considered a respectable achievement for amateurs.
For competitive shuckers, though, the figure "34" looms with the same significance other athletes once accorded to such seemingly arbitrary digits as "60" and "four minutes flat." Thirty-four's the number of oysters Hundertmark has proposed to shuck in one minute at this weekend's Winter Warmer Beer festival, and thereby demolish the current world record by a single bivalve.

To claim the crown, Hundertmark will need more than the right knife.

"I would say, it's elbows and wrists," Hundertmark says. "And you have to have pretty good hand-eye coordination. I'm throwing the knife at my bare hand; I wear latex gloves and all that does is keep the blood in."

Hundertmark has been a regular on the oyster-opening circuit since a former world champ happened upon The Lobster Trap and ended up urging him to shuck competitively. Hundertmark, who shucks thousands of oysters every week at the downtown restaurant, has since finished sixth at Nationals and won a prestigious competition in Charleston twice.
But Hundertmark's personal best in the one-minute shuck is 31.
 
"I know I'm coming up short," he says. "I figure 600 cheering people is good for one more oyster."

Since one extra oyster won't impress the Guiness folks, he's also recruited his 18-year old son, Kat, to shuck alongside him. He's hoping the competition will spur him to shuck just a tad faster, and claims he won't mind if Kat emerges as the world record holder.

"It would tickle me to death," he says.

The current record holder is Patrick McMurray, a Canadian oyster bar operator who tore his way through 33 East Coast oysters in 2002. He hasn't been able to beat his own record yet.

Unlike McMurray, Hundertmark is a "hinge opener," meaning he slices his knife through the spot where an oyster's two shells meet. The rules of world record breaking let him choose his own oysters, so he's planning to select 40 Gulf Coast oysters well suited to the hinge method. The oysters will be arranged in a straight line, allowing Hundertmark to quickly move from one stubborn oyster adversary to the next in chess grandmaster style.

"I won't spend an extra second on an oyster that's not working out," he says.

Hundertmark will try to set the world record for one-minute's worth of oyster shucking on Saturday,  Jan. 23, around 5 p.m. at the Winter Warmer Beer Festival at the Haywood Park Hotel. Tickets to the event are $37 and available at www.brewscruise.com.

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