By Nora Saks
Photos by Tara Rice
From our May 2023 issue
At a picnic table by Portland’s East End Beach, Andy Rogers opened up his cooler bag and produced four knives, a lemon, and a stash of Salt Wind and Flying Point oysters. He laid them on a bed of ice and prepared to demonstrate the technique that won him first place in the 2021 Wellfleet OysterFest Shuck Off, on Cape Cod, and sixth place in last year’s U.S. National Oyster Shucking Championship Contest, in Maryland. Rogers, who’s 27, was wearing an oyster-emblazoned hoodie and a baseball cap with the logo of his Jolie Rogers Traveling Raw Bar. A button pinned to the hat depicted a smiling oyster hugging a shucking knife, with the motto Shuck Like A Champion. Rogers knows at least a few people who have him in their phones only as “Oyster Andy.”
Together with friend and business partner Ryan Jolie, Rogers grows oysters in the Damariscotta River, sells oysters at a market in Edgecomb, and serves oysters at weddings and pop-ups around the state from a mobile raw bar. “Oysters are the taste of home,” said Rogers, who didn’t actually try his first oyster until he landed a job at a fancy raw bar in Portsmouth during his freshman year at the University of New Hampshire. It wasn’t love at first slurp. “I was pretty neutral about it,” he said. “It wasn’t like fireworks went off or anything.” But he was soon shucking hundreds a day, empty shells piling up next to him. The work was meditative — he would try to shuck an oyster per breath. “If I could get that flow,” he said, “it was a very Zen thing to be in the middle of a very busy shift.”
Now, he eats oysters pretty much every day, and he doesn’t do anything fancy with them. He’ll dress them up with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of homemade hot sauce, but the quality of the shuck is the key. A good shucker isn’t just fast but also clean. “The oyster should be sitting there pristine in the shell, ready to eat, as if you had just opened it up and loosened it,” Rogers said. “Other than that, it’s been untouched. That’s the ideal, because there’s just something beautiful about the creature and the simplicity of it.”
He grabbed a chunky oyster from the picnic table and tucked it into his bare left palm. The pros call this “shucking in hand” — many shuckers nestle the oyster in a towel instead, and some wear a heavy rubber glove, to avoid stabbing themselves. Rogers burrowed his knife into the hinge where the shells connect, twisted once, and the top shell popped up. In one smooth motion, the hardest part was over. The adductor muscle that holds shells shut, now taut, was easy to slice through. Then, Rogers slipped the blade under the tender body, severing where the adductor attaches to the bottom of the shell. In less than five seconds, the oyster had been relieved of its calcium-carbonate armor.
Could he do it blindfolded? “Oh, for sure,” he said, proceeding to shuck an oyster with his eyes closed. Next, he shucked one behind his back.
Rogers was feeling confident about nationals, coming up again this fall. He’ll need to shuck 24 oysters in under a minute and 50 seconds, and cleanly too, because every speck of dirt, fragment of shell, and nick on the meat incurs a penalty. On an average day in peak season, a thousand oysters might pass through his beat-up hands. Over the winter, he was “getting his reps in” behind the raw bar at Portland’s Eventide Oyster Co. And he’s in the process of fabricating his own knife specially designed for shucking in hand, with a shorter blade and custom grip.
This summer, Rogers is starting a local shucking league — the first Tuesday of every month, June through September, contests at Oxbow Brewing Company’s Portland outpost will be open to experts and novices alike. It’s mostly for fun, but it also gives Rogers extra opportunity to hone his competition skills. He hopes, too, that it attunes more oyster slingers and eaters to the fine art of shucking. He’s encountered more than a few bivalves mangled by inferior bladework. “You’re disappointed more often than you’re impressed,” he said, “and I’d like to flip that equation.”
As Rogers enjoyed the fruits of his labor down by the beach — “this is more table salt than sea salt,” or “very buttery, a little bit of movie-theater popcorn on the lips” — he philosophized that shucking like a champion isn’t just about winning. “It’s more about the drive to do better,” he said, “and to really honor the oysters.”