Becky Wasden and Stefani Sell run the traveling oyster shucking business Two Girls One Shuck (www.twogirlsoneshuck.com). For the past two years, the women have brought their shucking skills to birthday parties, weddings, crawfish boils and a summer residence at Curious Oyster Co. inside Dryades Public Market, which begins in July and runs through August. Wasden spoke with Gambit about her company and the craft of oyster shucking.
How did you hatch the idea for a female-driven oyster shucking company?
Wasden: I initially saw it as a party trick. We'd bring a bunch of friends and go to someone's backyard and socialize ... and really, who doesn't love two women shucking oysters?
I remember the first oyster I ever shucked — I just loved it immediately. It's a very rewarding feeling. That was November of 2013. It took a few months for the idea (for the company) to settle in, because at the time, I was finishing my [master's degree]. But I've always kept restaurant and bartending jobs, and I realized that shucking oysters and talking to people is just like bartending, really. It's the same concept of community and a safe space for people to come in and talk. We kind of steal the show — in a good way. Everything we do right now is catering-based. I'm really interested in doing a shuck truck — something we could sell seafood out of.
The Gulf shells that we get are true rocks. They're pretty sturdy, really rocky and strong. They're amazing for recycling. We give them to CRCL (Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana) and we know they're using them to build beds. Oysters love to grow on oysters. I think there are now 24 area restaurants that (donate) their shells. They get picked up five times a week and are taken out to New Orleans East where they are baked in the sun for six months. Then they're taken out to different distribution areas to make (oyster beds). Every little bit helps.
Why aren't there more women oyster shuckers?
W: That's such a hard question to answer. The truth of the matter is that there are many, many women in the backend of the oyster industry. A lot of male oyster shuckers just kind of fall into it because they're charismatic and it's kind of a show. People think it's just a flick of the wrist, but it's physically demanding. There's a lot of upper body strength needed. And it's disgusting. ... I think that each and every oyster is beautiful gem — a little pearl of the sea. But it's a dirty, dirty job. I think the ambience of the job is messy, but that's kind of what we love about it.
The teacher in me wants to educate both men and women about shucking oysters. We've been talking to a few culinary school locations about doing some oyster shucking classes.
There's nothing you can do but try to learn as much as you can, especially in the culinary arts. It's really an oral tradition. There's no written instruction, you just have to hold that oyster and try your best over and over and over. It gets passed down generation by generation. But it's also a dying art, and I worry about that. There's a lot of mechanical oyster shucking contraptions out there.
What's your take on competitive oyster shucking?
W: I think it's fantastic, and competitive oyster eating is hilarious. To me, it would be scary to shuck competitively because you really have to leverage the things to pop them open and I would worry that my knife might go under. If you can make it presentable, that's all that matters. Show a beautiful product. I'm not a fast shucker — but my goal is to have the cleanest, prettiest oyster, and I guess that's a very female trait.