In the epic battle for shellfish supremacy, 16 will enter, but only one will sniff the sweet smell of victory mixed with a hint of seawater and horseradish. That's the kind of fierce competition you can expect at Bearfoot Bistro's annual Oyster Invitational and Bloody Caesar Battle, which pits some of the world's best shuckers against each other for a chance at thousands of dollars and eternal epicurean glory.
For the first time, the beloved Bearfoot-hosted party will be a part of Whistler's premier food and drink extravaganza, Cornucopia, and will be held Sunday. Nov. 8 at the Whistler Conference Centre.
Usually held outdoors in the September sunshine, organizers decided to reschedule the event this year to November after this summer's weeks-long ban on B.C. oysters.
Sure, they could have shipped in some oysters from the Maritimes, but that would have been an affront to the West Coast's iconic Pacific shellfish.
"B.C. oysters are recognized worldwide as such a great product that we felt it was inappropriate to utilize other types of oysters," said the Bearfoot's marketing manager Marc Des Rosiers.
Now in its fifth year, the Oyster Invitational has become one of the premier oyster-shucking events on the planet, thanks in no small part to the $5,000 top prize, the biggest in the business, according to Des Rosiers. For proof of the event's global reach, you need look no further than this year's internationally diverse field, featuring shuckers from as far away as the United States, Denmark and Estonia.
Once the battle lines are drawn and the knives are sharpened, competitors will have to shuck 30 oysters to be presented upright on a platter, free of shell and blood in a whole top shell. They'll be judged on a combination of shucking time and presentation.
The good news for attendees is you'll get to sample some of the Sawmill Bay oysters while watching the knives fly, which Des Rosiers hopes will serve as something of a learning opportunity.
"Our goal is to grow this event but at the same time better educate people about the world of oysters," he said. "I think by interacting with some of the world's best shuckers it will help to gain a better understanding of what's available out there."
Of course, no oyster platter would be complete without a stiff cocktail, and five of the country's best mixologists will be on-hand to serve up their best bloody Caesar creations, including Sushi Village's own Amy Huddle, who returns to defend her title after claiming the throne at last year's battle for her Japanese-inspired "Oishi" Caesar.
Each barkeep this year is sponsored by a different spirit company and will be required to concoct their libation using that label's product and Walter Caesar mix.
Whoever emerges champion, Des Rosiers is excited to continue building an event that's become one of the resort's hottest tickets.
"I want to keep the momentum going," he said. "Over the years it became such a community event with so many locals supporting us, so I'm hopeful we'll be able to do it as well as we have in the past."
For tickets, visit www.whistlercornucopia.com. A portion of proceeds will go to the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation.