Saturday, December 5, 2009

Irish Breakfast at The Ceili Cottage

Come and get it!
Green grass, misty mountains, black Guinness, and a rainbow every day. The colours of Ireland are renowned worldwide. Before you can explore the countryside, you must first wake up and have a hearty breakfast.
My favorite treat every year that I go the to the Galway Oyster Festival, is the Irish Breakfast on a bun - 8am, after 2 hours of shucking with "me mates" - Oyster shuckers from around the world.
Breakfast sausage, blood sausage, bacon and egg all wrapped up on an easy to handle bun. Mmmm warms the cockles of my heart.
At the Ceili Cottage, we are going more home-style, by putting our breakfast on a plate. Kyle has made all of the sausages in house, pork breakfast sausage, blood sausage, bacon rasher, potato scone, beans, mushrooms, grilled tomato and topped off with a fried egg. This is the hearty breakfast that will set your day, and fill you till supper. Which is what I always do when in Ireland, the big breakfast, a wee pint 'round lunchtime with a few oysters, and a nice supper to finish out the day.
Today marks the first day of the Lunches at the Ceili Cottage. 12noon 'til we close, Saturday and Sunday. We'll see you soon.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

MOvember at Starfish & The Ceili Cottage

Hello Boys and Girls. This is the month of MOvember, and the crew at The Ceili Cottage, and Starfish are going to participate!!
What is MOvember you ask? Great question, MOvember is an awareness, and fundraiser campaign for the month of November, gents are asked to grow a moustache to promote Prostate Cancer awareness. There are fundraiser parties you can attend, or you can donate at the website - , or just grow a moustache just for fun!!

I will be growing (with great difficulty) a "freestyle" MO, I'm calling the full-on ClownShow. Come on down and see for yourself, and feel free to comment - for $1 - you can try to make me cry with your comments - it all goes into the pot.

MOnday, MOvember 30th, The Ceili Cottage will be hosting the final MOvember Party, DJ MVP, MOustache rides, prizes for best MO (ladies included - be creative) and Oysters for Donations - $1.00/oyster will be donated to the cause. Pencil it in, and start growing!

Shuckingly yours, Paddy

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guinness 250th

Well, well, well. I'm just back from Ireland, and it slips my mind that the 250th is upon us and on the 24th of September the world will be celebrating the dark stuff. (Un)fortunately, I will be on a plane to Ireland. Instead of missing all of the parties, I thought that I would have one of my own.
Sunday September 20th at The Ceili Cottage, and you are all invited.
$5 Guinness & Harp, Lobster supper, oysters at 12 for $15, music, dance, contests & prizes. All set up in under 7 days.
It looks good in my heat at least!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

All Canadian Oyster Eating Championship 2009 - results

Well, it's been a wildly wonderful event. The thought of an eating contest and oysters do not normally meet in my mind. Hot dogs, pie, spaghetti all come to mind for the contest world, but not oysters. That is until recently.
The lovely folks at Tourism Ireland asked me to put together a little something to get someone over to Ireland, for one of their many festivals, and for some reason The Hillsborough Oyster Festival just popped into my head. I haven't been there before, and they had an eating contest - something for the Oyster lovers out there, not just the pros who open them.
So I came up with he idea of holding the All Canadian Oyster Eating Championship at The Ceili Cottage, qualifier for the World Championships.
The main contest is how many oyster can be consumed in 3 minutes? The record...233! A staggering amount, and how would I conduct a contest of that amount of oysters?
I came up with the idea of $20 = 20 oysters, timed to see how fast one could eat the 20. The top 6 times would compete head-to-head on the three minute format to get them used to the event. Over the two weeks, we had about 12 eaters vie for the spot. for the 20, the best times were: Mike-23.9 sec, Linda 24.7 sec, Shawn 27.0 sec, Peter 28.3 sec, Rod 28.8 sec, and Darlene at 35.1 sec.
On August 20th I had the competitors pop by to The Cottage and get all geared up. I put them 3 on 3 on the customer side of the bar, and we, the crew, fed them plates of oysters. I had pre-shucked 1200 oysters reserved the shells and put the oysters into containers - to make sure that the oyster was severed from the bottom shell, and that all of the work was done ahead of time.
Once we had the oysters stacked 15 per plate and 10 plates per person=150 oysters, we were ready to go. 5,4,3,2,1 go! and the shells were flying. Each person had their own method to the madness - one-hand, two hands, tilt and slide,and suck all soft things off the hard...Cheering and madness ensued. All kept their oysters down, and kept on pinting afterwards!
In the end, the video (thanks to Rich) can explain all.
Linda Li - ate the most oysters at 148 in the three minutes. She will be joining me to attend the Hillsborough Oyster Fest next week. We will be training on Sunday at The Cottage, so come and cheer her on!
We will leave Sept 3 and be back on the 8th. I will keep in touch while away!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gilchrist-Canavan School of Irish Dance -Open house & How The Ceili Cottage came about

For a number of years now, 8, I think, my daughter has taken to "The Dance". Irish Dance that is. The form of which is of the rigid upper torso, straight arms, and light feet. That is until the hard shoe hits the floor. She, and my son now (he'll thank me later) are both with the Gilchrist-Canavan School of Irish Dance, which has been located, here in the east end of Toronto, residing in the local Legions until about a year ago.
They had to move - a combination of school growth, and expanding headaches experienced from the Legioners, living below the hard-shoe training on the top floor of the Byron Bing Branch on Coxwell.
When it came time to move, Alison (my wife, partner, and best friend) and I were helping to find a suitable location. A large space is required for dancing of any style, and at a reasonable cost - which is the difficult part of the equation. So we thought that I would get part of the dance studio as my own art studio. (I'll eventually get into the art thing...) We were looking for the ultimate space - needs natural light, open space, parking, and at a good price. We saw several spaces that might be good, but none were great...until one morning...
Sinade and Patricia had e-mailed Alison a listing.
"Aw shit!" was what I heard Alison express to the computer screen, at 8:30 in the morning. I thought that there was some bad news, as you can imagine.
"What's wrong?"
"Just look" as she pointed to the screen.
"Oooooo! It's my garage!! How did you get this? What's going on??" I was rather excited.
To back track a bit, I have always liked this building at 1301 Queen Street east. The shape of the building just speaks of Irish Bar to me, and as I was getting cupcakes at Sweet Bliss, I would stare at this building, and with puppy-dog eyes, I would look at Alison.
"No! No way, we're too busy for you to think of an Irish bar!" she would repeat to me.
"But it looks like an Irish Bar - Moran's of the Wier in Clarenbridge!!"
"Yes, but you're too busy with Starfish!"
And that was the end of the conversation - every week.
Until that morning, when the girls sent over the e-mail.
"OK, we'll go - but only to look with the girls!"
It wasn't perfect. Location was great, half way from home to Starfish, east end for the school, but the building was rough. It leaked, no insulation, and there was a large, block structural wall holding up the ceiling. It was too big for the school, and the rent was too expensive for them. It was too big for an Irish bar in my mind, and a proper bar should be small - under 100 seats - tight, just big enough to meet your neighbours.
BUT, if we squished the two together, the concept and idea of the space is great - Irish dance studio, and an Irish bar - what could possibly go wrong?
We had the builder in next, and he said that we could remove the structural wall in the studio side, and that would allow the pub to reside up front, , and the studio would get the most space possible.
So we set off to make this thing work, and now that the bar is open, the Gil-Can school is having an Open House & Registration this weekend - Saturday, Aug, 29th.
Come down and see what we are all about.
As the name Ceili implies - A social get together of music and dance and with that comes the food and drink

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lobster Rolls on Georgian Bay

I did a Lobster boil at a friend's stag a few years back - I'll tell you that one soon - up on Georgian Bay. The day was fine the water cool, everyone hungry, and I was allowed to do whatever I wanted as far as the cooking goes, so for be it was bliss.
Oysters, sausage, smoker, lobster, pie. But the thing that was the most memorable was the Lobster Roll.

Yes, it's durty, food porn, on a soft, processed, whitebread-bun, but it is the comfort-food on the Lobster world.
Mmmmmm-Lobster Rolls.
This is what I came up with this year - Lobster - tail & claw,
roe & tamale, mussels, peaches and cream corn, and just enough Pommery aioli to hold it all together.
I have a dream, one day to be working a food cart in downtown Toronto - Oysters & Lobster Rolls.
I only go catering once in a while - when the workstation looks like this place...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

All Canadian Oyster Eating Championship 2009

Today is the day!! We had a bunch of eager oyster eaters over the past few weeks, and the 6 finalists will be sucking back oyster for 3 minutes! The winner - the person who eats the most, will win a trip to Ireland with me, to Compete for Canada at the World Championships of Oyster Eating. The Hillsborough Oyster Festival is the main sponsor, and Ireland Toruism will be out in full force to jazz up the place, and help send us off to the contest!!
We will be serving $5 pints for Guinness from 5-7pm, in honor of the Oystery celebration, and the 250th birthday for Guinness!!
I am bringing in 1200 Howard's Cove Malpeques from Adam at Oysterboy, and whatever the contestants do not suck back, you will!!
Come on down for some great craic, and a pint & oysters!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Oyster Eating Championship

Oyster Eaters rejoice!!

You can eat your way to Ireland with me...

I've been asked by Ireland Tourism, and The Hillsborough Oyster Festival to bring a friend along to the World Championship of Oyster Eating this September 4,5,6th near Belfast Ireland.

To do this, I thought I would bring a competitor for the Championship to represent Canada. The contest is how many oysters can you eat in 3 minutes - world record is...233! If you are not scared by this, and you think you ca represent your Country, and you can travel to Ireland September 4-6th (I can write a note for your boss) then you shoud head down to The Ceili Cottage.

August 20th at The Ceili Cottage - I will be holding the All Canadian Oyster Eating Championship.

We will hold pre-qualifying rounds, Aug. 10-19th at The Ceili Cottage - $20 gets you 20 Malpeque oysters (for competitors only)

We will time you eating them, and the best 6 times will make it to the final rounds on the 20th.

Attached are the Rules form the Hillsborough Festival

For more information, contact Patrick at:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Stories before I forget them...

Hi there. I thought that I would post some stories of how I got to where I am today. Some will be for the past, some will be more contemporary in time frame. I think it is important for me to write this down before I forget, but it also stimulates more questions from the folks across the
The first one is the story of the day I won the World Championship in Galway. I'll add more as my time frees up here and there. I would like to tell the story of Starfish, The Ceili Cottage, the theories of how they came about, and where they are going.
In the mean time, contests prevail at this time of the year. Off to PEI in a week, and I think I will write and post from there as well. Then, Ireland twice in September!!

Paddy's win at The World's 2002

World Championship 2002

Saturday morning, I'm up early as it is the big day. World Championships of Oyster Opening 2002.

Now, I'm used to getting up early, two kids, and a business to run and all, but today was a little harder, than usual. The night was fun under the marquee, and even though I was to bed early, the Guinness I think, got the better of me. Or was it the whiskey?

I'm up before the breakfast service in the hotel, nice nosh as well, but I have no time for that. I'll eat with the rest of the crew at tea time, around 8:00am. "The Irish Breakfast on a bun". Rasher bacon, sausage, black and white pudding, poached egg, grilled tomato on a soft "submarine" bun, and a cup of well brewed tea. Soft, chewey, greasy, salty, gooey goodness. If the Irish are renowned for their "craic", drinking and parties, then this, by God, is the originnal hangover helper. I dream of this moment from mid-July every year.

This is my favorite time of the whole festival, if not the whole year (of the oyster calendar that is). This morning it is up to maybe 15 shuckers to ready 600 dozen oysters before 11:00am. Another 400 dozen will wait until after the start of the event at 12 noon. This is where we get a close look at the oysters that we will be competing with and a chance to get the knives ready and the arms limber. There is always a sence of comaradare in the tent, in the morning. We are not as much rivals befoe a contest, but friends at a qilting bee, chatting, laughing, and watching each other's technique, in awe of what and how tho other opens oysters. Each person in the tent has a great respect for the other's work, Egos are checked at the door.

The sun has poked across the Clare mountains and is cutting the morning fog on Galway bay. It's beautiful, and I've desides to walk the 15 minute disatance, along the Promenade, rather thanwaith fro a cab for twenty. I'm late already, so I hurry along. The boys will be on me and won't let it go. "Good afternoon sleepy..." and al that.

The Marquee is a lovely word the Irish use to call a massively large tent. It is set up over The Claddagh - a part of Galway, and Irish History, where the Claddagh ring was concieved of. They say, in the jewelery stores at least, the if you but a Claddagh ring in Galway, you will always return. It works for me, 10 years running! The marquee is red and white stripprd roof with white, and glass walls, and is installed complete with a hardwood floor from front to back. It is more of a semi-permanent structure, rather than a tent. It is a sight to see. On the end of the marquee is the kitchen tent. It is in there the the oysters await.

As I walk up to the front door, The same security guard is at the front, and it takes a second, but he recognizes me from the year before.

"Op'nin wi'de lads out back are ye, Canada? Nice to see ye, again. They've already started, best be in. Good luck ta ye!" In the west, ye is still used for "you".

Game face. Clear mind, think of the oysters. I draw in the salty sweet scent of the Galwway morning before entering the tent. My eyes are get accostomed to the red hue from the roof and are drawn to the stage where it will all take place later today. It is a long walk to the kitchen tent at the back of the marquee but I can see that there is action already behind the drapes. Mrs. Kelly is organizing the girls, spreading butter on what seems to be an endless supply of Brown Bread.

"Morning Mrs. Kelly!"

"Good morning, good morning, Patrick. Did you sleep well then? Now, Diarmund and Michael (pronounced mee-haul) are inside, we'll have tea up in a bit"

"Thank you mrs. Kelly."

I enter to see the now familliar sight to two massve worktables with a mound of oyster shells 5 feet tall on each, surrounded buy durty-aproned, wet handed, hunched-over shuckers. More oysters are being carried in by Michael and Diramuind, in boxes big enough for two to hold. I'm home.

"Nice of you to join us, Patirck. Is it lunch time already?" chirps one, "too bad we're nearly done you would't want to get your nice hand all messy-like!" sings another. I've only met these folks three time in my life, but in the Shucker's Tent, we've known each other a lifetime.

I grabbed some space in a corner next to Deiter Brener, of Sweeden. He openens in his hand with a double ended knife that he invented and is always improving and training others to use. He gave me one of his knives in 1996 when I first met him. It's always great to join in on the conversation of las nights revelries, but there is a job to be done today, talking can come later, and the job is to plate the Galway bay oyster, 6 to a foam plate with a sprig of seaweed for garnish. Keep shucking and plating, stack the plates on top of each other and a runner will grab the plate-stacks, 10 high an take them to the service area the rack them under the bar. Continue until 600 dozen are neatly tucked away for the day's enjoyment.

I made a pile of about 300 oysters in the corner, laid out my workstation, and set to work. I shucked six at a time and kept at a slow pace to warm up and feel the hinge, of the oyster. Slowly I work into the speed of the layout. still six at a time, paying close attention to the anatomy of this oyster. Deiter is moving at a fair pace I can see through the corner of my eye. He's always been quick but clean as well, definately one to watch. The figur eight movement of knife on shell is very fluid and well thought out. I rarely get to see him open oysters so I pause to watch the master. Shell tops are flying as he works through a couple of plates.

I go back to work, then it is Deiter's turn to watch as he looks over my shoulder. I lay up the six, pop and drop, a bit sticky on the hinges. Set up another, then it happens. I didn't see one shell had some sponge on it, and I was laying into the oyster with too much force. On the third oyster of this plate, the top shell cleaved, the knife blade slipped through, and at the same moment, my eyes came off of the oyster, long enough to have the knife slip. The pain of the cut was minimal. So then I looked down, and there wasn't any blood immediately, I thought that I was lucky, and I only nicked the outside of my finger.

I had cut my self on the left hand, at the base of the middle finger, where the finger meets the hand proper.

The next split second, I pulled the knife out of my finger, and noticed the tip on the opposite side, the point was on my wedding ring. I immediately put pressure on the wound and went to the sink. "Not that bad." I thought. No blood, we're good.

Deiter saw what had happened and came over to see if I was OK.

"I'm fine." I said, and the word went around the room that I had cut myself.

At the sink, still no blood. I poked the skin at the base of my finger and noticed two holes, big holes across from each other. Shit! I put my knife right through my finger! It stopped on my wedding ring or it would have hit another finger I think! It is 10:30 am. Parade starts at 12:00 pm, conteat at two. Right.

Ok,ok, emergency plan. I took a clean cloth that I travel with tighty wrapped my finger and excused myself from the tent. No Irish Breakfast on a bun this year. I thought to my self, no time to go the hospital. Surgical glue and steristrips. I head off downtown to search every pharmacy, and hardware store for gloves to hold it all together.

After 5 pharmacies. with no luck, and running out of time, I decide to head to the Great Southern hotel where the parade is to begin. No panicing, I will bandage tightly, and see how long to "bleed through". I head to the washroom.

I clean the wound again, It's a good one, one of the best I've seen two holes 1/4 inch long each. Two stitches each maybe? Dosen't matter, I break out my "magic bandaids" These are my favorite brand I get from a first aid supplier in Toronto. These bandaids stick well even wet, and do not leave a residue when removed. A shucker should not be without bandaids, at anytime whether shucking or not, you just never know when someone's kid will skin their knee, or you need to wrap a present.

Three bandaids. One on the first side, then the other, then one to anchor around the base of the finger. Nice and tight. Good. I get them wet and wait. Twenty minutes "to bleed through", the first sign of blood. Great, i thought. I have 20 minutes. All I need is four. I will re-bandage just as I get called to the stage, and I'll be fine. 11:45am. I go out tot he lobby to get my apron and flag before the parade.

By now everyone knows that I got cut pretty badly. They were all quite concerned how I was doing but I was fine, not to worry. Time for a pint.

Now, apart from Darts and maybe Curling, Oyster Shucking has to be the only "sport" where partaking in a pint of Guinness is highly recommended. "A good shucker should be able to handle his liquor and a sharp instrument at the same time!" Murph, my "trainer" would say back in Toronto. Not only does it taste good, is socially acceptable, is it by the way what the natives are up to by now, but it calms the nerves as well. I generally like to hit the table at about 3.5 pints in, over the course of 3 hours. Part if "the game" before a competition, back home was to try to buy each other that one pint too much, to throw the concentration. You had to be on your toes several hours before the contest so that you wouldn't get too drunk.

The parade is a nice touch, you are, after all at the World Championships, and flag waving is a big part is this event. We start at the Great Southern Hotel, Galway's grand railway hotel, located in the town square. This is the site where the Galway Oyster Festival started over 50 years ago, as an extention to the tourist season. As the years wore on, the festival outgrew what the hotel could hold, eventually moving to Spanish Arch, and then to the Claddagh where the tent resides now,

Frank Fahey, competition director, is in the lobby making sure all of the openers are present, with apron, and flag. Frank is the nicest guy to run a competition, always calm and collected, but running fast as he has to watch over the the openers like a teacher, with a boys' school outing at a football match. Inevitably, someone is late, missing, of off to the washroom without telling the teacher. Frank asks about the state of my hand.

"I'm fine, just a flesh wound, all taped up an ready to go! Thank you very much", I say. I'm deliberately not telling anyone about the cut, to fake myself out more than anything else, to keep my hat in the ring, and most of all I don't want the head judge to think that I would end up bleeding in the oysters, nobody wants that.

Like a mother duck, Frank moves his fledglings outside to start the parade. The openers are tucked in beind the Norther Ireland Friendship band, as the name implies, a large brass band, dressed in what looks like a royal blue painter's smock, and red keck-kerchief, and black fisherman's cap. Each hat is adorned with pins from wherever they've gone on tour. The concept for the band, is a bunch of folks, from the North, that comes to the South, to keep the peace, and disturb it at the same time! They play a collection of up-beat marching, and jazz tunes, that is guaranteed to rev-up the audience every year. If I hear "Tiger Jazz" on the radio, I think of this band. It is their signature song I believe, as they play it several times to an adoring, dancing crowd over the course of the day. As with everyone els here at the Festival, the Band is known to partake in a pint or five. I still don't know how one can have a couple of pints and play the tuba, but then , they probably say the same about oyster shucking. It takes years of practice.

It feels like everyone in Galway is at the hotel to see us off. The Guinness "gig-rig", a black as stout, 18 wheeler is set up outside, as a portable stage and sound system. The house band wraps up, and the announcements start. The Oyster Pearl is making her way to the stage. Miss Oyster Pearl is a local girl who has won the annual contest that is run weeks before the Festival to be the official representalive, and photo queen. Now, it is a superstition of mine, to have the Oyster Pearl touch my knife every year. You can imagine, thirty-something oyster geek in an apron and flag, with a cracking voice like a pre-pubescent boy, comes up to a beautiful, six foot, just twenty blonde in stilettos, tiara, traditional cape and gown..."Uuuh, hello, Miss Oyster Pearl? Uuh, would you touch my knife?" Classy, to say the least, quite the ice breaker, but don't try this at home kiddies. The Pearl obliges, probably to keep me quiet while she calls securtity with her free hand. Luckily the oyster geek backs off smiling, and re-joins the group.

The stage is packed with dignataries, the Mayor, Chairman of the festival, Miss oyster Pearl, a band, and Michael Kelly, champion shucker and oyster grower. To open the festival proper. Formality is the key to the Irish experience. Everyone must have their turn to speak, from the Pearl, the the Chariman of the Festival, to the Mayor of Galwy, and even the "Teigh-shuck(sp)" the Prime Minister of Ireland is invited for a few words to celebrate the oyster. Who would have thought that practically the whole Nation stopped fro a moment to consider the oyster and what it had brought to the culture. Five point six million euros to Galway businesses for the weekend was one point that was made. Once all of the announcements have been completed, the parade begins.

The shuckers follow a procession of dignetaties in vintage 1920's cars, followed by the Northern Ireland Friendship band, a school band of children in blue kilts and shawls playing tin whistels. The Galway Arts Festival always puts on a great show with their theatrical group, stilt walkers, acrobats, dancer, thesbians, all contribuiting their part to the day's festivities. We wind our way through the town, around the main square, over the cobble stone roads of the High Street, over the bridge at Spanish arch to the Marquee. Lining the streets are patrons and oyster fans alike, partaking in a pint of the black stuff before lunch, to stimulate the appetite for lunch, oysters, debauchery or all of the above. These folks, leave their posts on the route, glass in hand to join the oystyery procession wind its way to the marquee, and enter the tent, flags first 'round half past noon.

I finally meet up with Alison in the tent, and told her of the morning's mishap. "Don't even think about it" she replies, trying to draw my attention away from the injury and towards the task at hand - shucking i the competition.

Generallly I don't get phased by a cut, I just know that it has to heal, and it will take its time. Tape up and get back to work. But getting cut four hours to the big contest is a different situation. Luckily, I thought this through while fixing the wound, and I was in a good state of mind. Better than getting cut during the contest. Tape up and get back to work. "I'm fine" I told Alison, and went off to get some pints.

In the wold of sport, save for Curling, having a social pint while shucking is part of the game. It settles your nerve, lightens the atmosphere, and an focus your thoughts. Many would argue this position, but shuckers are a strange breed.

"The ability to handle your liquor and a sharp instrument!" was Murph's usual answer to the age old question - What does it take to be a good oyster shucker? Murph is my Oyster mentor, and teacher of shucking and opened the door to the Oyster world for me. That makes him a Master. Master Shucker Murph. More on Murph later.

Before the contest there are a few announcements, and a general good time party going on, oysters and a seafood platter being served, washed down with pints of Guinness and lager, wine and champagne. Women in fancy cocktail dress are all prancing around and looking wonderful for the judges of "The Most Elegant lady" contest.

I am most impressed that the drinks are served in real glasswear. In North America, if there are more than 25 people, plastic, and disposables seem to be the norm. Here though, 3000 people, can have a great good time, dancing, cavorting, with real glasses supporting the drink of their choice, and with a minimum of breakage. If there is a dropped glass, the patron will inevetably be the one to clean it up as well. It is as if their mothers were in the room, watching that they clean up the accident. Very civilized.

Three and a half pints of Guinness is what I usually like to have before the contest. By then any nerves are settled, and the shucking will be smooth. There has been many times when I've seen shuckers pacing, smoking, rattling the cage, psyching up before the game. Whatever works for the individual, I guess.

At 1:30 the Oyster Openers get called to the judges tent. This is where the rules are explained, and the head judge will inspect the knives being use. The tent is small, 10' by 20' at best, with a row of tables around the perimeter for the judges to lay the opener's trays, and inspect the oysters. We all cram into the little room, and Frank Fahy reads out the rules and regulations. I noticed that there is an improvement in the room this year. A sole, lonely draft tap, sitting in the corner, waiting for the judges to arrive. I'd better test it to make sure, and several other openers follow suit. After the rules, Frank allows us to draw numbers, which will correspond to a basket of 30 oysters, and your position on the stage. I'm in the second heat. Time to focus on the game. Visualize the tray, the knife placement, breathing and tray placement. Once the first heat was called, I re-bandage my hand, and get ready to go.

As we get called up to the stage, there is a jumble of people in front of the crowd. Announcers, timers, counters, officials, the mayor, Miss Oyster Pearl, and the Northern Ireland Friendship band. Oh, and the shuckers. This year there is a TV crew from Japan, filming their shucker on the stage in my heat. A little crowded to say the least, but that's part of the game.

Once on the stage, the Mcee calls to the crowd to pick a "nom de plume" or a nickname for the so that the judges, will not know the identity of the plate of oysters when it arrives at the tent. Anominity is key for even judging. the annual announcer is Michael----------? with a deep baritone, booming voice, perfect for the job, its no-wonder he's done it for as long as I have been going to Galway.

The non de plume is always picked by the crowd, so if they are co-hearant enough, name are thrown out to the stage, in hopes of naming the horse. "Scappy, The Doctor, Superman, Rambo, are all names usually called out. There are some unwritten rules though, Presidential names, and very Americanized names such as Rambo cannot be used for the US opener, and Waltzing Matilda or Roo, cannot be used for Australia, along with other easy giveaways are regularily refused by the Mcee, When my turn came, "Killer" was called out and accepted by Michael, and thus, my tray was named.

I opened my basket of oysters, and layed them out in front of me, to the right of center, in a checkerboard pattern, a thumb's width apart from each other, fanned out only as far as arm's length, no further. I will be shucking off of the table propper, no board, no cloth. In years past, I was disallowed to use my oyster board moments before we started time. House rules in Galway that only the board provided may be used. Clothes are allowed, in a grey area of thought, so long as the oyster is not supported in any way by the cloth. The cloth will bind up under the competition's speed, and will actually slow me down, so this year, I trained myself to shuck off of the table only.

To finish this contest, a bell must be rung. It is a small, brass "hand bell" that I set, just off of the presentation tray, in the upper right hand corner, to be able to ring it as soon as the last oyster is placed.

The oysters are down, the tray and bell alligned, ready to go. Listen for the caller. Hear nothing eyes focussed on only the one oyster on the spot. hands above the head, Knees bent, lower to the table. The crowd calls out, almost drowning out the the announcer, 5,4,3,2,1 go! The first one is always the hardest. in oystering I'm talking about. All I hear is the sound of the knife on the shell, the roar of the crowd is somehow drowned out, I see, and hear only the oyster. All else fades away. Pick up, place the oyster on the spot, knife on thumb, in the hinge, turn, pop, pull up with the left-index finger, insert the blade, touch the adductor muscle, remove the shell with a flick, spin the oyster 180 degrees, sweep for grit, slide the knide under the muscle, two cut the bottom, place the oyster on the tray, and pick the next oyster in line. 4.77 seconds per oyster. Breath every fourth oyster. focus. feels slow, like plodding through wet cement.

I hear the caller announce that the Scappy has done 6 oysters, Batman has 8, Killer is at 12...that's me I'm ahead, I think don't listen, always wrong. Shuck.

Time slows to a snail's pace for what happened next occurred in the time it takes to open 2 oysters, in retrospect, it is all clear, but at the time, I made split-second decisions, that to this day is hard for me to pathom. Over my left shoulder I noticed a flash of light, nothing much, but then I noticed movement, and just two oysters later I felt a bump on my right elbow, a slip on the oyster shell, and the sharp pain of cold steel in the middle of my palm.

I looked down at my left hand. The knife had pierced dead center, a small but bleeding hole in my palm, trouble. I looked up over my right shoulder to see where the bump came from. Three inches from my nose, over my right shoulder was the black hood of a camera lense. The TV crew heard that I was ahead, moves over to my station, to get a tight shot over my shoulder, and with all of the people on the stage, bumped my elbow, and thus cut my hand.

Now, in the time took to look at the camera, I thought of my next move. Was it A) to put my oyster knife through the lense, into the cameraman's eye, rip his heart out, and feed it to the awaiting seagulls?, Nope too graphic, and I don't think that the judges would approve. B) I could stand up, protest, and get a "mulligan". nope too easy, I don't like the thought of a re-do. C) Continue shucking and hope to god you don't bleed profusely. I chose C.

When competing in shucking, the first six oysters are the slowest, as you find your groove, and set the pace. I had stopped to look at my hand, and therefore, I had to get back into the groove again, this time, with the remaining 15 oysters, I had to wipe my had off each time to avoid any bleeding. I hit the groove pretty quick, and finished the last oysters still ahead of anyone else in my heat. I scanned the oysters in six rows of five. No blood, and a sigh of relief.

I rang the bell and looked towards Frank Fahy, while he was removing the camera crew from the stage. He had seen the whole thing, and was quick in his desision to remove them. All I said was that if there was blood in the oysters it was not my fault, and to take that into consideration please. Frank nodded, and apologized, but I was suprisingly not that upset about the whole thing. The timer showed me the time 2:34. Wow, all that in two and a half minutes. It felt like i was plodding along the whole time. My time was good, and it is in the judges hands now.

I always look at contests like I did exams in university. once you are done, don't look back, no use stressing over the results by looking up the answers in the text book after the test. Off to the pub with you! Relax and enjoy the fact that you have finished a difficult bit of work. Which is why I am an oyster shucker and not a, whatever it is people do if they do not shuck oysters for a living.

So I went off to the bar for a pint and to find Alison to tell her of what happened. Alison cannot stand to watch me open oysters in competition so much that she has to leave the room.

She was a little more upset than me, but I reassured her that Frank delt with the sitiuation as best as possible, and that everything was alright. It wasn't that bad a cut anyways.

The most difficult time I have at any contest is the final decisions and placings called out by the announcer. I always like to hide or pull away from the event as I dred the call of my name. I often catch myself calling under my breath whil the announcements go on. "And in 15th place, with a time of...Patrick McMurray I whisper to myself...New Zealand!" Whew, not me, but I'm next in 14th, 13th, 12...8...4? What's going on? I must have disqualified, not enough oysters. Third... augh, maybe I bled everywhere. Second, is where it comes down to it. At the worlds they call everyone, so by now I've figured, as everyone on stage was this pointing out to me as well, that I was either Second or First. Second was called, ...not me. "and the winner from Canada with a winning time of 2:45, Patrick McMurray!!"

The crowd went wild, but the crowd always does, because, here everyone loves the show and that is what we oyster openers do, is put on a show.

I was elaited, I didn't beleive it at all, but there it was, I stepped up, was offered a bottle of Champagne, which tradition dictates that you sprtiz the crowd, and your fellow competitors. With a new apron and the cup, I took my pint of Guinnes, poured it in, along with the champagne and drank a winners drink from the silver cup, passed it around to everyone else, and looked forward to the dinner that night.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Carlos's Last Day

What do you say about Carlos. He's a guy, who grew me up in the industry, right from the start. I met him first while I as a bussboy at Le Bistingo 117 years ago on the Queen West Strip. I probably would not have been here if he didn't teach (from watching) how to have fun in this cut throat side of the service world. We would share stories as he told me what to do and when to do it. then we'd have a beer after service. the stories he tole are rich in lore, fantasy, and reality that is so rare, it's got to be the truth, cuz you couldn't make it up. Every day would be a new story, and to this day he comes up with more - I don't know where it comes from, but it is good.
Carlos built a bar with my brother Christian in the eighties, and had a great time of it, then he went to the starts for a while, and we lost touch.
Just after i opened Starfish in 2002, Carlos popped in as suggested that he wanted to work a few hours, and like myself, Carlos liked to work 25 hours a day, as mush as possible. So, while he was at Pastis in the evenings, he started lunches at Starfish, then he eventually moved into the night position at Starfish, and took over the wines.
Since then he has been in charge of the wined for a long while, as well as closing out the system at night, but most of all he is a character to be reconned with.
I will miss the strange stories of the resto-world, the sordid dark past, the dangerous accent and playful banter with the customers (especially the females). I can hear it now..."Where do you think I am from? I'll give you three guesses..."
Carlos is building his own place - Leopold - I believe the name is. I do not know as I get so self absorbed into my own world, sometimes I do not find out what is going on out there.
Three weeks ago I asked who was cooking for him, and "dunno" was the answer. Not to worry, Carlos has the answer. You may not know it at the time, but the answer is there, as is Carlos, just when you need him.

I will miss him on the bar at Starfish, and it is difficult for me to make the trek to Leopold, at St.Clair & Bathurst.
But I will make the trek.
You should too - just ask about the time a lawn chair came crashing through his window in Ecuador.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Contest Results

Yes, I'm back and survived yet another wonderful day of oystering at Rodney's Oyster Festival.
If you were there, you and 600 of your closest friends saw some of the finest speed shucking this side of an F1 test track.
Amongst the revelers, there were 30 of the old, and new crew to the shucking world. Old greats like Scotty Shallow - shucks once a year now, at the Festival, used to swing from the rafters with me at the old ROH - "took it easy" on the crew, and shucked a 1:50something, while Geoff Meikle, nearly received a "delay of game" penalty for his saucy set-up ritual which set me to laughing as only GM could pull off.
In the end, the contest set myself against Eamon Clark - RTC's son, and head shucker of 469.
The crowd was already geared up and raging. Chanting of names, thumping music, and pints of beer, got the place on fire like a Man-U football batch.
On the Go we were off and we blasted through the set of 18 oysters. I got snagged on two that I didn't like with "pucks" - a fragment of the top shell stays attached to the adductor muscle - takes too long to remedy, just pick the back-up oyster instead.
At two oysters left the noise was deafening, and I knew that Eamon would finish first as I was behind by two back-up oysters (shucking 20 to make the plate of 18). When his hands went skyward, signaling the end of his shuck, for a split second, silence. The silence heard before the sonic boom of a jet passing like you see in all of those movies. Then a wall of sound rushed past so loud I could feel it. Then I finished my plate, and tapped out. Best sensation shucking with a monster like that.
When you are put in a heat with a fast horse, you cannot help but to be pushed along. I shucked the plate in 1:29 (20 oysters) to Eamon's blistering finish of 1:22. Thank you Eamon for such a finish!!
After the judges took their time with the plates, Eamon took first, with fastest AND cleanest plates (first time for that to happen at the Ontario's) Dave from ROH took second, and yours truly took third.
Of excellent note as well, Bruce of Starfish came in 10th, Lisa Millen of Starfish cam in 9th, LJMDavid of Starfish pulled off 5th, and Dom of The Ceili Cottage, shucking only for 3 weeks, tapped out a 1:55 flat time (finishing unknown as of yet). Thanks and congratulations to the crew!! You all did terrifically well.
Come on down and see some of the fine shucking going on at the Cottage or Starfish any day of the week!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Shucking Contests

Hello All! Yes, it is that time of year again, when the knife is polished to an ultra sheen, and the oyster shells are flyin' at the Ontario Oyster Festival chez Rodney's 469 King Street West, in the Oyster garden.
Some 800 of your closest friends will be there to enjoy each other's company, fresh beer, lovely bi-valves, and watch the sweat pour from this year's round of shuckers, some of which show up just in time, for the event to get hot, so you never know who will be on.
Eamon Clark as always in the past few years is one of the boys to watch, and LJMDavid's perfect plate (very difficult to accomplish) has just cut a new blade, and by last account was working with 800-1000 grit wet-sand paper to get that polish right.
I'll be in there as well so the show will be the thing. Starfish will be closed this Sunday, so we can all go to the event.
Warm ups will be at The Ceili Cottage at noon, then it is off to ROH for 2pm. Either meet us at the Cottage, or ROH, and you'll get a chance to see some of the best shucking this side of the Miramishi - just bring your earplugs, and rubber boots - you'll see why when you get there.

Trad Music Sessions

The Ceili Cottage's music nights are about to begin - this Tuesday, July 14th. Hosted by Ena O'Brien at 8pm, all are welcome to attend, and join in if you play. I have a piano in-house that is open to anyone who like to play, at any time as well. Hope to see you there. Paddy

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Ceili Cottage & Oysters

Hello all, Patrick here. Sorry for the long, pregnant pause - several months methinks. I've been putting together the Ceili Cottage. A lovely little Irish Local at 1301 Queen Street East in Toronto, and it's been open now for 16 days.
We opened is such a last minute hurry, that I didn't get so far as to hang pictures on the wall yet, and only just got the music system working yesterday, so we have a ways to go before The Cottage is done. I think that most cottages are like that though.
I will post the stories of how this all came about, from Starfish to the Cottage, and back again. More for me to write down the stories, but for those folks who are interested in this part of the Restaurant world. I would love some feedback, or questions, as I will be answering questions on line as well, so let them roll in...
In the mean time, a shellfish update.
The Oyster is entering its spawning time on the east coast, and some of the west. That means fat, plump sweet-creamy textures, that some people love, but is not for everyone. The summer changes are short in nature, about two to four weeks, and those who buy oysters will adjust supply based on the spawn time.
At the moment, PEI oysters are looking great!!
- Howard's Cove - are coming in with a full meaty texture, and a wonderful brine. The gills are streaked with green, which would cause most folks to run screaming, BUT, if you are in the know (and I'm telling you now, so get the pencils out) the green gills are stuffed full of algae (phytoplankton) that has seen enough sunlight to stimulate the chlorophyll to a gorgeous blue-green. Flavour-wise, the oyster is very bright in oceany salts, and sweets with a hint of the grassy vegetation it is eating. Can't get better than this. I try to buy green oysters wherever I can. This oyster probably has 4-6 weeks until the spawn cycle hits so enjoy where you can.
- Green Gables - fantastic oyster from New London Bay, PEI. Green on the outside, means flavour on the inside, Plump and meaty, not as green as the Howard's, but just as flavourful.
I'm just waiting on my west coast beauties to arrive - Beach Angels, and Marina's Top Drawers, as well as the Weathervane scallops, then I will report on those.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

St. Paddy's Day at Starfish

With St.Paddy's Day up and coming, it is traditional for Starfish to show off the dancing of The Gilchrist-Canavan school of Irish Dance. The girls, and boys, come in full costume, and put on a show right down the middle of the restaurant. This year my daughter Leiden, will be dancing as usual, and now my Boy-o Spencer is dancing as well for the first time!!

The school will arrive and put the show on at 8:00pm,  Saturday, Monday, and St.Paddy's Tuesday as well. 
Monday will be particularly great as Rob Pendergast will be running his music session at the same time. 

I'll make a video of the session and post it soon...

Come on down and enjoy a bit of "craic" at "The Fish"

The link above will hook you into my Twitter posting. This will enable me to inform you when there is product arrival, or special things happening, on the fly.



Thursday, February 26, 2009

Harold Cossaboom does it again...

Wow. The Green Sea Urchin from Harold's boats are some of the best I've seen, and the second shipment has just arrived. Absolutely full, and a beautiful ocean saltiness up front and sweet caviar finish, with notes of seaweed perfume. 
Harold is also sending me some scallops arriving tomorrow, so I'm excited to try those as well.

On the scallops side, the Weathervanes have returned to the Starfish bed again. I'll cover those next...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Paddy's Oyster Stout lands again!!!

What the heck is Oyster Stout? A just and fine question.
I first read about this retired beer style, called Oyster Stout in Michael Jackson's Beer Companion (no, not the singer) It was described as a brew made in the UK in the late 1800's. It was probably started by using crushed oyster shells as finings to clarify the beer by making a "raft", like when making a consomme broth. The raft sets at the top of the pot, and as it settles to the bottom, it draws the impurities with it, thus clarifying the broth. As oyster shells were used in this version, many folks thought that the resulting beer had an "oystery"taste, and they liked it. Later versions of this rare style included adding whole oysters, shell and all, just the oyster meat and liquor in various quantities to create each batch. The last commercial batch was made by the Manx Brewery of the Isle of Mann in 1965, and then Oyster Stout slid into the gullet of time...
     I discovered this while I was working at Rodney's Oyster House and thought, "Oyster Stout. If there was anywhere it could be sold, was in an oyster bar!" So I set about trying to find a local craft brewer to help me out. Most of the smallest batches that could be produced, was about 16 kegs...even if I could sell this obscure beer, I couldn't do more than one keg a month - that means making one batch a year...not the freshest around.
     Bruce Halstead of Durham county to the rescue. He had a special keg, able to screw off the neck, and add the liquor, one keg at a time. So we came up with our method of the Oyster Stout.
Approximately 4 liters of oyster liquor is saved off at Starfish. Oyster liquor is the clear liquid residing within the shells of the oyster. When it is time to make a batch, I bring the liquor up to boil and simmer for 15 minutes, cooking or pasteurizing the liquor. I then chill it over night, and hand it off to Bruce, where he adds the liquor to the keg first, then fills the rest with his Black Kat Stout, and brings it back to Starfish.
     The result is a black as night stout, that has a slightly salty nose and start, lovely roasted malts, and a sweeter finish than a dry stout. It is a little on the rich side, so it's rare that more than two are enjoyed at a sitting. Most folks who try the Oyster Stout love it, even those "stout haters" (yes, there are those folks out there,  but that's OK, that means more Stout for the rest of us). 
     Please drink responsibly, though -  as the oysters are renowned as an aphrodisiac, - Paddy's Oyster Stout may cause friskiness, and I know of only two pregnancies, post-quaffing.
Fair Warning.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Green Sea Urchin is coming...

Hallo Again. 
I know, I know, I've been talkin' the talk for quite a while now, but I told you that I would announce when the green sea urchin would be coming. I just got word, yes, at 1:30am, that I would be receiving a shipment of lovely green sea urchin from my new best friend, and urchin harvester, Harold Cossaboom of White Head Island, Grand Manan, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick. No, really.
Word is that they will be harvesting later this week, and Starfish will have 20 pounds either Thursday or Friday.
Now you can quote me on this...they still have to get here, there are no guarantees in life (except death and taxes) so give me a call to confirm, then tell your friends. If all goes well, this will be a regular occurrence.
In the past, the sea urchin I got was probably Harold's anyways, but it went to a wholesaler in NB, to Fulton fish market in NYC, to Montreal, and then to me in Toronto. I'd hate to do that trip myself, let alone a Sea urchin.
I will have more updated news as it comes in, and a story on Harold and his work.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

So you like your Oysters in the winter...

Hallo all. 
Well, I just got back from PEI, and I know what you're thinking. Most sane folks would like to go to some place warm and sandy for a few days before Valentine's. Oyster Shuckers aren't necessarily sane, but I was asked to talk as a guest speaker for the Island Oyster Grower's Association's annual general meeting. Quite an honor for a simple city kid from East York, to be asked to chat about oysters, something these gents have known for generations. Naturally, I said yes in about 2 seconds, and asked if they had a day or two to listen to me blather on. 
Johnny Flynn grower of the fantastic Colville Bay Oysters called over to James Powers of gorgeous Raspberry Point Oysters, and asked if we could be taken out on a tour of winter harvesting. This is a special treat, as the boys usually only go out once or twice a week to prep your oysters, so to land on the day is quite lucky.
I made a quick video of the work that is involved in getting oysters out to the many oyster bars and restaurants across North America, for us to better understand what oyster growers go through in the coldest time of the year.
The majority of growers or harvesters will try to get oysters to marker all year 'round, but are thwarted many times because of weather. In the summer the growers may be halted due to heavy rain, and warm weather causing a red tide bloom, but in the winter, you can guarantee on ice.
In the PEI, ice and snow blanket the "Island cradled in the waves" like a Colorado ski resort, minus the mountains. Pine trees, churches, and clapboard houses pop through the snow creating breathtaking views despite the breathtaking chill.
The day we went out it was -10˚C and not rain, but lightly falling slush, big enough to feel when it hit your head, just to make things interesting. Thank God, Scott and Johnny had extra foul weather gear.
We suited up, hopped in the back of the pickup, outfitted with chains on the tires, and made the five minute drive to the middle of New London Bay.
First things first, a grower has to prep the site, 3-4 months ago. Like squirrels socking away nuts for the winter. Scott and the crew spent allot of time, grading out oysters based on shape and size into 100 count perforated boxes. The boxes are stacked, 12 high, and six columns across into racks - 7200 oysters in total per rack. The racks are positioned in the deepest part of the lease area in approximately 15' of water, so when the ice comes in , the rack won't be disturbed.
Then they wait for the impending ice floe.
In the dead of winter, most of the growers on the island will close up. December is usually the last month for the serious ouster grower, fulfilling the Christmas orders, and then closing up shop for the winter. Repairing gear, and preparing for the spring thaw will take up allot of time, or you fish something else. There are several, maybe a dozen packager in total across PEI that can winter harvest. 
Once we make it to the harvest site, a buoy is selected, and snow is removed, exposing the ice sheet. One of the crew members, fires up the 24" STHIL chainsaw. Mmmm chainsaw power....
Rumbling away, the saw tears into the ice, and a 6'x6' square opening is cut. Four thinner blocks are created for ease of moving, and are pushed under the floe, instead of being hauled out. In the good ole days, the ice would have been sold off for "iceboxes".
Once the opening is free of blocks, an A-frame hydraulic winch is positioned over it, and the hook is lowered into the icy blue-black water. James is fishing for the buoy-line like my boy fishes for prizes at the EX in the summer. Once James has the line, the winch is activated, and a mass of grey boxes is slowly lifted to the surface, displacing PEI's signature red silty mud from the bottom, causing the now blood-coloured water to surge up, and stain the ice. A couple of minutes later the rack is lowered onto a sled attached to the back of our pick up, and we are off to the grading shed of the PEI Oyster C. The tricky part is to get the oyster into the shed before they freeze in the cold air. Luckily it is only a balmy -10˚C with little wind, and a short drive. (I was thinking more of me than the oysters at this point.
When we got back, the crew takes the oysters, and runs each grey box through a washer, check for "winterkill" when the oyster dies off in the shell, and gets very smelly (sulphurous eggs, gas, death in general). To check, the basically smell for it, three to five guys will check and re-check each box after washing.
Once the boxes are packed, then they are tagged and ready for shipment.
Grab a beer, check out the video, and when you next have an oyster in the dead of winter, think of, and thank the grower for heading out onto the ice pack, the shucker has the easy job.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

PEI in the winter

It is the dead of winter, the snow is piled up, and we're slippin' and slidin' around town. Yet, we can get lovely oysters out of the fridge, just about any time we want. Or can we?
This Colville Bay oyster by Johnny Flynn - fat, plump, and crisply toothsome with a hint of salty ocean, is sound asleep at the bottom of Johnny's beds, covered in a thick layer of Ice and snow. There they'll lay, hibernating,  'til the spring thaw, when the ice leaves the bay, and Adam (Oyster Boy) will go out and "tend the beds" on a spring clean up, and we'll get them once again.
Well, there are a few intrepid, truly hardy Canadian Oyster Growers out there that have come up with a way of harvesting through the ice, and frigid temperatures.
Lucky me - I'm going to do that on Thursday - in PEI. 
I've been asked to speak (I've been known to spin a few in my time) at the annual Island Oyster Grower's Association's annual meeting. It is an honour (as a Toronto boy) to be asked to share my thoughts, and really, your comments - of how the Malpeque oyster is  perceived in this and other Oyster towns across the world.
While I am there, I'll be taken out tho the water, and actually harvest oysters through the ice. I will be taking pictures, and report back, after I thaw out myself.
I'll also be shucking at the Claddagh Oyster House in Charlottetown, home of Liam Dolan, publican, oyster shucker, and now, Matchmaker, like myself. We will be holding interviews, and an intimate Matchmakers - Hartwarmers Festival on the 13th. All are welcome, if you're in the area.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Halibut is halibut, just a nice white fish that is best suited for fish'n'chips, right?
Well, thanks to the aquaculturalists down in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, it's time to think again.
I've been working with Brian Blanchard of Scotian Halibut (follow the link at the top) to bring in some of the freshest, most interesting, environmentally friendly cultured fish I've seen to date.

Firstly, the fish is grown in an "on land facility", which means that the fish is not impacting on the ocean as much as an open pen fish farm. Actually, the water for the fish comes from the bay, but is filtered on the way in to purify, and extract any parasites, and then if filtered on the way out as well. This helps eliminate the contamination from concentrated levels of any left over fish feed and, fish poop. The poop is actually converted into fertilizer, much like that of a regular land-based farm.

What happens is, that the fish is left to grow, and feed and the facility until it reaches a weight of about 5 lbs, (about 2 years) which is when they harvest the fish and send it to Starfish, and  few other lucky restaurants.

When the fish lands at the back door, it is still stiff with rigor - gross for some, but dead sexy for me and the fresh fish lovers out there. Then the fish gets slimy, (I know I'm talkin' durty to you now...) as all fish will get slimy, because, mucus is extruded off of the outer flesh. What you are left with is great, fresh fish. Any fresher, and you'd have to take the hook out yourself!

At this point, I call Dr. Fishhead. As the name implies, he dances at the thought of licking at the cartilage of a fresh-grilled Halibut head - those cheeks, tounges, and the collar - my-oh-my!

 Chef Kyle then butchers the fish, and preps it for service, where he will lightly season the halibut, and roast it on the bone. The dish, as photographed, is so large, we have to serve it as a shared dish, and  most say it is too much for two - closer to a three person dish - unless you are a Dr. Fishhead as well...
The other benefit of the environmentally clean way the fish is grown, is that I take some of the flesh, and serve it on my sashimi plate. Normally, fresh wild halibut is not allowed to be eaten as it lives on the ocean floor, and therefore is susceptible to parasites. No, it is not a bottom feeder! Halibut is actually quite an active predatory fish, lying in wait, camouflaged on the floor, until an unsuspecting fish swims by, then SNAP-O! Lunch! 

Kyle is serving the Halibut for two with a celeriac puree, oyster mushrooms, carrots and a sage brown butter.

Call and I can save you a head too, but I've gotta pass it by the Doc first!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

ShuckerPaddy - Oyster Shucker-Matchmaker

 As V-day (Valentine's) is fast approaching, I've thought of something interesting to do while I am shucking at Starfish. I will be running a service of Matchmaking. 
I find that I meet alot of folks across the bar, all with the same adventurous thoughts towards food, and some with hopes to meet that someone special. 
I've shucked for it all - casual meetings, first dates, naughty encounters, engagements, stags & stagettes, weddings, and even divorce fetes. The Oyster has brought more people together that I can even think about! 
So now, I am taking it upon myself to have an active role in helping the Oyster in its lusty desire to bring people together. I'm just going to take down particulars, have a think while I am shucking, and if the right person comes along, I'll set up a meeting - over a few oysters at the Oyster Bar!
The service is free - you just have to pop in to Starfish when I'm shucking oysters, and we can have a chat. I'll take down some notes, and we'll go from there.
You can e-mail me as well - to book some time.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Time - where does it go...

Hello all, It has been a while, I do apologize. 
I have been busy with the dealings of the ocean, and how to get the best of the fruits to your lips.
I am working with a few individuals on the east coast that are interested in shipping direct to Starfish for a wide range of seafood that they harvest all year long in short seasons. That means, I will develop a menu based on the regional-seasonal availability of a fish or shellfish, based on when the people are licensed to bring them out. Right now I'm driving for Scallops and sea urchin from Harold Cossaboom of Grand Manan NB.
Weather is a big player, not just for the fishers who bring you the fish from the sea, but for the truckers as well. If there is too much snow on the roads, the product cannot make it to market.
I'll give you a blast when the product arrives!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Great Canadian Pubs - blog post of The Ceili Cottage

I just received a call from Troy of the Great Canadian Pubs blogspot and had a nice chat with him about what we want to accomplish when we open. Reads great, coming from someone else...
Have a read.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Scallops are coming

I just got word, because I tend to forget a few things, that we are landing the West tomorrow, Thursday.
Out of Quadra Island BC, the Outlandish Shellfish Co-Op puts together a lovely "black box" of shellfishy goodies. At the moment we are landing Marina's Top Drawer oysters, Beach Angels, and some gorgeous Weathervane Scallops.

Marina's Top Drawer - Rack grown, or fully aquacultured, at the top of the water, in trays (or drawers hence the name (partially) - Marina was thought to be Cortez's lover, and the top drawer was where she kept her frilly things...nice. Salty sweet cream, and melon vegetables.
Beach Angels - are started on the rack, then finished for a season on the beach to give it a more earthier, natural finish and a beautiful, sage green shell.

Weathervane Scallops - Oh, but the scallops! 4" across the shell makes for a beautiful scallop within. Size of a U10 (U=under 10/lb.) with the roe attached. The roe is the "caviar" of the scallop, and has a taste mush like caviar, without the salt.
I take the scallop, because it is so big, and break it down into its 3 main parts.
Mantle - firm- crunchy, like a water chestnut - and salty like the sea
Scallop (adductor muscle) - soft, and firm, sweet as sugar, from the sea
Roe  - ultra rare to get, there only a few places serving this. - tastes of "fresh caviar"
Get them while you can, I bring in a small shipment, as they only last a few days at best. Not like oysters. 

But then we all can't be perfect. 

Monday's Session & late night oystering

Pendy and the gang whipped up the tunes a couple of degrees at "The 'Fish" on Monday. Nothing like listening to good Irish music to shuck oysters by. Got me to thinking, that there isn't a great place to have a few oysters late at night in Toronto, and I am wondering why. I tried it in the past, and I know there are a few out there that try to stay open as late as 12 or 1am.
Toronto is the largest city in Canada, we have a great diverse group of people that live and play here, I'm sure there should be a crowd of people who would like to savour a lusty taste of the sea, after a game, in between clubs, or just to cap off the night.  
After going to NYC, and seeing Oyster Bars such as Blue Ribbon Manhattan at 3am, full of chefs, waiters, and generally debaucherous Oyster Fans, I've been inspired to open up a little longer on the weekends.
Friday and Saturday nights, when the kitchen closes at 10ish,  I'll keep the Oyster Bed open til 2am, turn up some stylin" NYC-Oyster-Grotto lounge tunes, and turn down the lights. Hopefully we'll get a few adventurous, debaucherous resto-types in after shifts.
Don't tell your friends.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Monday's session

-that's me after the "big win" 2001 World Champion Oyster Shucker - 3.5 pints o'the black stuff"

The music was fine, and reminiscent of any bar in Ireland! Two fiddles, flute, and tin whistle, Borhan, and the occasional sing song, and vocal story. I might add that the Kelly's oysters are perfect right now - firm, salty crisp, minerals - reminds me of the air at the cliff of Moher. Pendy's Starfish Sessions are providing a little something you don't see in every restaurant or bar, a bit of fun, and the sense of community. Just getting together for some tunes, and light conversation is what we need to make it through the cold grey of January. Spring is on its way, it'll just be warmer on Monday nights.

In the middle of it all I was asked to provide a song - actually sing, which if I did come through, would sound more like "caterwauling" (my daughter has disallowed me to sing at an early age...) That reminded me of a story from Ireland, 1996, the first year I attended the World Championships of Oyster Shucking in Galway Ireland, as Canadian Champion. 

The contest is of 30 local, Galway oysters, shucked as fast as you can then judged for cleanliness. The fastest time overall wins, and it pays to have the fine balance of speed & nice looking oysters. Each nation participating, has to run their own national contest. 
Canada's is in Tyne Valley PEI, the first full weekend of August. I run a cottage party after the contest - you are all welcome - if you can find it.
The US has their contest in October, at the St.Mary's Fairgrounds in Virginia. I recommend the line dancing.

In Ireland they have the national contest only two days before the Worlds - make for a busy weekend, especially for the poor sod who wins...but they stay in fine form.
After the event, the crowd moved to Rabbit's Bar, along the high street, and is the residence of John Rabbit, a wonderful gent who can entertain you for hours with stories, and direct you to whernever you want to go in Galway. (mental note, when you visit Galway, stop in at Rabbits, ask for John and go from there)

I grabbed a pint (or 5) of Guinness and just enjoys the evening continue. The place was wall-to-wall with folks from the festival, and contestants from other nations.
In the back, I head a bit of music coming from the courtyard. I went through, and entered the garage where there was a wee group of folks playing music, a gent singing, a bartender pouring pints from a single tap on a 4'bar, and a group of people all listening in. Wonderful. 
It was great enough to be there to shuck in a contest, but to stumble upon an almost secret back room music session/sing-song. That was the icing on the cake.
I just stood there in the corner, soaking up the atmosphere, while song and story were passed from person to person. After about 30 minutes of this, the bartender threw it out.
"And now to the Canadian in the corner!"
"Wha'?" half disbelief, half fear fell over this Canadian, as I do not sing at home or in the shower, and I do not know any songs, or carry any sheet music with me, I blanked. I couldn't think of a thing.
"Sorry, I can't" I said
The bartender gave me one of those bartender stares when you've been naughty. 
"Y'can't what?"
"Sing, I don't know any songs." I replied
"Not even Twinkle-Twinkle?"he sneered.
Now, I have totally blanked. I couldn't even thing of any words to anything, not even to my thoughts at the time. Blood rushing to my head, I blurted "Nope, not even Twinkle-Twinkle."
As they passed me over I learned a lesson, and vowed that the next time I had to go and Compete, I would learn a song to sing.

The next year, I spent 2 months listening to Peter Street from The Irish Descendants. 
Great, fun song. I still don't know the words...thank god they I didn't get asked that year.

When you next have an inkling to visit Ireland, make sure you go with a song in your heart, and the lyrics in your back pocket!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sashimi at Starfish

Well it's about time! I've been thinking of this one for years now. After a trip to Tokyo, and two days in the Tsukiji Fish market (check out the photobook when you visit Starfish, this is a pic from one of the Tuns butchers there ), really inspired me to start showing fresh, raw fish alongside the Oysters - it is a natural match.
On Friday, I was showing Claire Island Salmon, and Sardines, served with Sake horseradish, and soy. I'm going to see how this goes, if I can shuck & slice at the same time, for Monday to Thursday. On the weekends, I have Sir Lawrence David - Shucker extraordinaire on the knife, which frees me to work on the fish more.
The best is that I intend to bring in Guest Sushi Chefs from time to time (when I get around to it)

I'll keep you posted

Rock & Roll Train

Yes, my brothers & sisters of the temple of Rock & Roll. AC/DC has come and blown the top off the Rogers Center. How do I know? I was fortunate enough to be entertaining Cosmo, Pab and Harry, the gents, responsible for lighting, sound, and speakers respectively. The men behind the scenens really enjoy their oysters -  several dozen, waxing poetic of the tastes, and textures of each oyster, and chatting about the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. A wonderful night on the bar.
I was then invited to watch what they do, from behind the mixing board. What a treat that was!

I've been to 3 other AC/DC shows, while growing up, and this, by far was the best that I have seen. The combination of technology in speakers, talent on the board, computers to drive them, and the artistry in the light, and stage show itself, produced one of the loudest concerts to go to and yet, the sound was crystal clear. Every note from each of the band members could be heard. Absolutely fantastic! I tip my hat to all of those folks behind the scenes that make the band, any band a spectacle for the senses.

IF AC/DC is coming to your city I highly recommend that you get to the show, you'll not see anything like this again. Bring them some Oysters and tell them Paddy says Hi!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Landings this week

Irish Oysters are landing today, as they do every Monday, weather permitting.
Galway Flats, and Clarenbridge Bay cups will be joined by Wild Irish Mussels, smaller in stature, but bigger in flavour than most out there.

We are fortunate here in Toronto (and Montreal) to enjoy fresh Irish shellfish, as it is not readily available anywhere else in North America. An interesting story I will post in a future article.

To add to the pomp and circumstance, I've a friend starting up traditional music sessions, both Irish and Maritime, at Starfish Monday evenings. Robert Prendergast and friends will be up in the front window rosining the bow come 7ish.

Hope to see you there, you are always welcome.