High West Oyster Fest: This is Shucking Awesome!

By: Kristin "Boogie Feathers" Green

Thanks so much to Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar for selecting First Descents as the charity beneficiary of the 16th Annual High West Oyster Fest. This year, the High West Oyster Fest raised over $90,000 for First Descents and young adults impacted by cancer.  To learn more about the success of this event, see photos, and watch videos please check out our event highlights!

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Jax Fish House is an old restaurant with a young vibe native to the Denver area. With 20 years of oyster shucking experience under their belt, they are constantly looking for opportunities to connect with the community and give back. The focus that FD has on young adults resonates with Jax and the young crowd Jax continues to attract. In 2017, Jimmy Zanon, a Bar Manager and 15 year team member, was diagnosed with Colon Cancer at age 37.  He believes in the mission of FD and is stoked to live beyond his diagnosis and get out living it!

What to look forward to for the HWOF event

First Descents is thrilled to participate in the first ever oyster fest in the Denver area and join Jax in connecting the local foodie community of eaters and restaurants. The main spectacle of the event will be the team oyster eating competition where some of the best competitors from around the state and country will be displaying their truly impressive talents.

Competitive shucking and cleaning not your game? No worries! Spectators can purchase a ticket for an entertaining night topped off with an 11 course tasting menu from some of Denver’s finest culinary masterminds. Ten of Denver’s top Chefs are preparing 2 items each, one that’s oyster focused and one that is of their choosing!  Items vary from Nashville Hot Oyster Sandwiches and Miso Grilled Oysters to Thai Chicken Sliders, Shrimp Satay Salad, Cocinita Pibil Tacos and Key Lime Pies.  Oh, and Jax is shucking FRESH oysters on the 1/2 shell. As you move from table to table you can schmooze with chefs from restaurants Jax, Stoic & Genuine, Guard & Grace, The Regional, Lola, Cart Driver, Wewatta Point, Tammen’s Fish Market, Oskar Blues and Fish n Beer.  It is a LOT of food, and, if you want, an oyster feast.

Afterwards competitors and spectators alike can get their boogie on with live music from Guerrilla Fanfare Brass Band and tunes spinning from DJ Styles Davis.

Thanks so much to Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar for selecting First Descents as the charity beneficiary of the 16th Annual High West Oyster Fest. This year, the High West Oyster Fest raised over $90,000 for First Descents and young adults impacted by cancer.  To learn more about the success of this event, see photos, and watch videos please check out our event highlights!

To get a better sense of the excitement in store, First Descents sat down with some of the best shuckers of the west. Michael Hoang, 2017 individual shucking champion, Ben Wolven, former Jax Shucker turned pro, and Adam Reed, Jax director and oyster guru offered some insight into their beloved sport and pro tips for first time HWOF competitors.

How long have you been a competitive oyster athlete, and how did you get into the sport?

Hoang: I’ve been a competitive oyster athlete since 2011. I got into the sport because a co-worker of mine came up to me and asked “Do you like oysters?” I said “I LOVE oysters! Why?” He said “I’ve seen you eat at lunch.  You eat fast and you eat a lot. Would you be interested in joining my oyster eating team? We need one more to complete our 4 person team”. Of course I said yes, and we won that year.

Wolven: I was a hyper active kid who was always running around the house pissing someone off, so my grandfather would give me jobs to do and shucking our evening bag of oysters during cocktail hour seemed to stick. Fast forward to October 2013, my Jax manager and a few friends flew out to watch me compete in the Down East Oyster Festival/ Maine State Oyster Shucking Championship. I ended up winning the entire thing in front of those very loved ones who had eaten all of those cocktail oysters. I have been touring around the country shucking oysters ever since. Regardless if you are a shucker or an eater, oyster people believe in the sustainability of our oceans, which means oyster people are the best people.

Can you share some pro tips for new competitors?

Hoang: Have a game plan of how you want to tackle the onslaught of oysters in front of you. I normally skip the cocktail sauce and horseradish since it would be more to eat. I stick to squeezing some lemon for a splash of freshness. You may find yourself needing to slow down to chew oysters, to avoid the gag reflex or potential choking. Try not to throw up in front of hundreds of people.

Wolven: Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Nobody wants to eat a scrambled looking puddle of snot or chew on sand or grit. Your oysters should pop like a grape and look like they did before you open them, only sans shell.

Talking strategy – What makes a great oyster athlete? 

Reed: It is truly a mental game.  The ability to concentrate on not just the oysters you are eating, but more importantly, on those to come.  Speed is more crucial than total volume…  And many techniques have been used, from grabbing oysters with two hands like a bald eagle snatches a salmon from an icy river, to collecting them in a pint glass and drinking them down…we have few rules about HOW you eat them in the competition.  Only REAL rule is, what goes down, must stay down to be counted in your total.  And one technique that is encouraged is ‘chipmunking’… every oyster that is in your mouth when your time is up counts, so it’s best to make sure you leave ‘the trough’ with cheeks!

What was the most memorable moment from HWOF of year’s past?

Hoang: My most memorable moment from HWOF was last year 2017. I won 1st place, beat my most fierce arch rival Steve ‘Guido’, and it was my first individual competition win. It was a storybook finish winning by only 1 oyster after about three recounts by the judges to make sure.

Wolven:  Oh boy, when I called my Jax GM at the time from the National Championship of oyster shucking and told him that we could do an oyster festival in Colorado, but better! Following that, all the money we have raised for multiple incredible causes. Winning has just been an added bonus 😉

What do you look forward to at this year’s HWOF?

Hoang: I look forward to defending the championship, this time with an amazing team. To all new and past challengers facing me and my team for 2018 – get busy training or get busy praying. We’re coming for you.

Wolven: DENVER! We are on the grand stage now and have attracted some national attention from our Coastal brethren and honestly, the more the merrier. We all want to win, but being together and teaching better and faster techniques is the only way we ourselves are going to get any better. Also, I just had a baby boy and he and his Momma will be in the crowd cheering me on!!

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