By Kathy Knotts
The U.S. Oyster Festival crowned its Shucking Championship Contest winners this weekend in St. Mary’s County. The annual competition, held both days of the St. Mary’s Oyster Festival, features 30 of the fastest men and women shuckers representing 10 states and the fastest local shuckers competing for cash prizes totaling $1,800.
Isabella MacBeth of South Carolina earned her third championship title in the women’s division. Jay Gallett of Louisiana won the men’s title. Competitors shuck 24 oysters in a timed event that is then judged and scored. Penalties are assessed for presentation, such as cut oysters or oysters that aren’t fully severed or shucking fewer than 24.
Contestants typically have won a shucking competition in their home state or region. Maryland contestants come from local restaurants, shucking houses, and the Watermen’s Association of St. Mary’s. Several winners from previous years have competed in the International Oyster Festival in Galway, Ireland.
Another highlight of the weekend’s oyster-themed festivities is the National Oyster Cook-Off Contest. Nine cooks squared off for the 2022 competition, making oyster appetizers, main dishes, soups and stews. Deborah Reynolds of Waldorf won first prize in the main dish category for her Crispy Fried Oysters and Cornbread Waffles with Maple Bourbon Gravy. Reynolds also won the People’s Choice award in the soups and stews category for her Creamy Tuscan Style Oysters. Ronna Farley of Rockville won the grand prize in the hors d’oeuvres category for her Coconut Oyster and Zesty Marmalade Crostini. The dishes were judged by Baltimore chef John Shields, chef Gwyn Novak from No Thyme to Cook in Solomons, and Bay Weekly editor emeritus Sandra Olivetti Martin.
The festival is hosted by the Rotary Club of Lexington Park and proceeds are used for a number of charitable programs in St. Mary’s County.