Five-time shucking champion Mike Rogers loves opening oysters and talking about them. Diners can find him at the oyster bar at Casamento's (4330 Magazine St., 504-895-9761; www.casamentosrestaurant.com).
How did you get your start as a shucker?
Rogers: I'm a New Orleans native. I grew up Uptown around Carondelet and Baronne (streets). That's where I first started learning how to shuck oysters, at Uglesich's. I was there for about 32 years — to the very last day. It was really sad those two weeks, when they were finally closing the building. But I kept on shucking, trying to get one more championship. I came close in 2010 (at the New Orleans Oyster Festival shucking championship) and came in second place. I'm a five-time champ, and I was hoping for one more. It's so great seeing all those guys, all the rest of the shuckers, and the new ones coming up as well.
I've been at Casamento's about nine years, since [Hurricane Katrina]. It's been nice seeing people coming in from all over the world.
The oysters now are pretty good. I know there's been a shortage, but we have a connection here, and we've been getting them with no problem.
After shucking oysters for so many years, do you still enjoy eating them?
R: I really do enjoy eating oysters. Well, when I have time. I might shuck a thousand oysters and not have time to eat some, but seeing people enjoying them, that's my comfort. I really love that.
Louisiana oysters, for me, are the best. It's been a long time since I had some oysters in San Diego, but they just weren't as good as Louisiana oysters. Our oysters here are salty, they're a nice size — very good for frying. People are using them in all sorts of ways. There's even a fried oyster taco these days that Woody, of Woody's Fish Tacos, is doing. I work with Woody when Casamento's is closed during the summer months. He's a real nice guy.
How does one shuck an oyster perfectly?
R: For a really clean oyster, you have to get sharp cuts on both sides of the shell, for less grit. When people suck the oysters right from the shell, you really don't want them to get that grit in their mouths. You also want a proper-looking oyster. ... I hate to see oysters when they're chopped up.
I love doing what I do. I've been doing it a long time. It's exciting, shucking oysters. You work yourself into this groove, and once you're into it, it's just comfortable. But it wasn't easy trying to learn. It took about six months to a year before I was really comfortable doing it. I beat a lot of oysters up before I learned how to really do it properly. There were shells flying everywhere.
We also do something here sometimes called the "airborne oyster." It's entertainment for the customers, when I shuck it into their mouths from some feet away. I've done it from as far as about 12 to 15 feet. It's a real Kodak moment. Some guys will be sitting down at a table and say, "Hey Mike, you can throw 12 over here." It's a lot of fun. — Scott Gold