N.O. fest brings oyster lovers out of their shells

Competitive eaters with a penchant for raw oysters will battle for the coveted Acme Belt on Sunday during the Acme World Oyster Eating Championship, the final day of the Fifth Annual Oyster Festival in Woldenberg Park in New Orleans.

Adrian “The Rabbit” Morgan, a pastry chef at Domenica Restaurant, has already implemented his strategy. In the weeks leading to the contest, he consumes a few dozen oysters almost every other day.

During the showdown, he will sip beverages that balance the salty liquor, while placing a couple of oysters on his fork, rather than one at a time.

“Less trips from the plate to my mouth should make me more efficient and faster,” said Morgan.

The skilled oyster-slurper recently won the Rouses Crawfish Eating World Championship.

“If I can come out on top in the Acme contest as well, it will be two-fold, plus a little lagniappe,” he said. “I’m very proud to represent my community and family. I want to win this for everyone who has supported me throughout my eating career.”

The Oyster Festival also features the P&J Oyster Shucking Competition and the New Orleans Fish House Largest Oyster Contest.

During cooking demonstrations, New Orleans chefs will illustrate the steps for creating an oyster-filled feast.

In addition to live music from such bands as the Bucktown All Stars, Bonerama, and Raw Oyster Cult, the two-day event offers ingenious oyster dishes from more than 20 of the city’s top restaurants, along with refreshments from Abita Brewing Co.

“Anyone who has a desire for oysters —raw or cooked — will be in oyster heaven,” said Sal Sunseri, creator and co-founder of the New Orleans Oyster Festival.

A sampling of dishes tempting visitors to Oyster Fest: artichokes and oysters over angel hair from Andrea’s; vegetable citrus salad with tempura oysters from Grand Isle; oysters Rockefeller po-boy from Oceana Restaurant; and oyster boudin egg rolls with pepper jelly and spicy mustard sauce from Superior Seafood.

“For those who don’t like oysters, we will provide dishes that appease all appetites,” said Sunseri. From Jacques-Imo’s Café’s shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake and Royal House’s catfish beignets to Café Reconcile’s white beans and shrimp, a variety of oyster-free options will be available.

Red Fish Grill will serve two dishes by executive chef Austin Kirzner, including their oyster BLT po-boy and their signature BBQ oyster po-boys, which are stuffed with flash-fried oysters and covered with a spicy Crystal BBQ sauce and a creamy, house-made blue cheese dressing.

“The Oyster Festival brings together some of the finest restaurants in the city of New Orleans to support a cause close to home — preserving our sacred oyster beds and restoring the Gulf Coast,” said Dwyre McComsey, the general manager of Red Fish Grill.

While the event celebrates the significance of the oyster farmers, chefs and restaurateurs who have created the “Oyster Capital of America,” it also supports coastal restoration.

A portion of the proceeds from the festival will go toward restoration projects directly involved with the sustainability of the Louisiana oyster.

“The oyster farmers have created, not only an industry for themselves, but the base and the reef system that generates other fisheries,” said Sunseri.

Losing these fisheries would lead to a decline in the Louisiana seafood industry and the livelihood of everyone who relies on it.

The participants in the Oyster Festival, particularly the restaurant vendors, realize that they play an important role in preserving the Gulf seafood industry.

“Everyone has been extremely happy,” said Sunseri. “They are truly embracing the celebration and being a part of one of the most incredible assets our culture, which is the seafood — namely oysters — in Louisiana.”