A glimpse into the life of a mother shucker
A phone booth, a wallet stuck in a snowbank and a derelict about to relegate it to a fate mired in yellow snow – these are not the everyday items of personal transformations. But then Chris Field is not your everyday guy.
His nickname: OG – for Oyster Guy, or maybe Old Guy, or Original Gangster. Given he’s the oyster shucker (mother shucker, say some) at Bearfoot Bistro, we can likely assume the first interpretation.
So it was the dead of winter in Toronto, 1987. Chris had innocently stopped to make a call from a phone booth (the dateline is important here – this was pre-cell phone days). In the booth next door, said bum was about to relieve himself and lay the lost wallet awash. But in an iconic, or was that ironic, swoosh Chris darted from his phone booth, grabbing said wallet to rescue it from an untimely demise.
He leafed through it and found a business card from one Rodney Clarke, fishmonger.
Like a humble good Samaritan, Chris returned the wallet to its rightful owner at Rodney’s Oyster House, where he sampled his first plate of raw oysters (Malpeques) by way of thanks from Rodney. And he was offered a job in one of Canada’s more eccentric elite restaurants. (With only 40 professional oyster shuckers in a country of nearly 32 million people, they are indeed a rare breed – almost one in a million.)
"Basically, after I discussed what bizarre hiring practices Rodney had, offering jobs to strangers, I decided to take it on part time. After a couple of years I actually liked it better, and even though I got paid about 25 per cent of what I was getting at my other job, I quit that one and did it full time," says Chris. From customs broker/freight forwarder to oyster shucker with only a few degrees of separation – and 400-700 oysters popped open each night in the early days just to get the hang of things.
Rodney, who hails from Indian Head, PEI, turned out to be one of the most successful oyster house bosses in the country (see why for yourself at Rodney’s Oyster House on Hamilton down in Yaletown). By the time Chris left, the place was doing $4 million in sales annually.
So what’s the big deal about oysters?
In the years before refrigeration, they were once a "poor man’s protein" (how about a penny a dozen in New York in the 1890s?). In Ireland, a pint of Guinness and a dozen raw oysters constitutes an Irish breakfast. (If you’re not Irish, try champagne.)