Sunday 29 March 2009

Oysters at Cumulus Inc: learning, tasting, shucking

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus IncOyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc
From the tasting notes:
Une huitre c'est un poisson fait comme une noix - An oyster is a fish posing as a nut
Jean-Charles, La Foire aux Cancres
Oyster masterclass at Cumulus IncShucking oysters with Andrew McConnell

I mostly gave the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival a wide berth this year. As mentioned in comments on a great post about the MFWF on Confessions of a Food Nazi, there's a lot of razzle dazzle, marketing hype and idolatry surrounding the many, many exorbitantly priced events in the program that rather turns me off them. And while I'm certainly not immune to becoming a ditzy fangirl of a chef whose food I've tasted and loved (Exhibit A: Mr Andrew McConnell *hemhem*), I generally dislike celebrity chefs and just couldn't work up any enthusiasm for any of the name-dropping Masterclasses.

That said, the one MFWF event that I went to that I loved was the Oyster Class run by Cumulus Inc and Moonlight Flat Oysterage: we learned about the history and cultivation of oysters, then had an oyster tasting and shucking lesson. I took as my guest my father (and oyster fiend) Rumpole, as a belated birthday present.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

Very cunningly, Cumulus Inc had arranged for the class to be held adjacent to the restuarant, in the exhibition space it had annexed from fortyfivedownstairs. It proved to be a fantastic chic venue.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

Throughout the night we were served wines supplied and presented by Scott Wasley from The Spanish Acquisition. First up was the 2006 Raventos Y Blanc De Blanc Cava 'Reserva' Penedes. I loved Rumpole's notes on the tasting notes.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

Just before the class began we were served delicious little pastries with anchovy, olives and onion. A girl on our table confirmed that these were the same anchovy pastries one can order as an appetiser at Cutler and Co, Andrew McConnell's other restaurant that I'd been to the night before (yes, it was a very Andrew McConnell intensive week!).

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

The other drinks we were served were the 2006 Castro Martin Albariño (Rias Baixas), the La Goya Manzanilla Sherry and a glass of Coopers Best Extra Stout. The Albariño was JUST SUPERB, and the stout was a great match for the oysters (as the tasting notes said, 'stout and oysters have shared a long association dating to the 1800's when oysters were not the delicacy we now consider, but a commonplace food served in pubs and taverns').

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

The class itself was run by Steve Feletti from Moonlight Flat. He touched on flat vs cupped oysters, Pacific vs Sydney Rock, stick vs single seed, the process of affinage and the effect certain factors (eg temperature, sunlight, rainfall, salinity, water flow) can have on the finished product.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

As Steve spoke to us and we asked questions, a crack unit of Cumulus Inc staff were assiduously shucking a mountain of oysters for our tasting. We were given ten mystery oysters (to be consumed in a clockwise order, starting from the wedge of lemon). On hand was rye bread with good quality butter and petite radishes to nibble.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

As well as Moonlight Flat's Clair de Lune Bouton, Angasi, Moonlight en Surface, Label Rouge and Rusty Wire oysters (details of which can be found here), the tasting included oysters from Moulting Bay and Coffin Bay and triploids from St Helens. We were each given an oyster knife to take home with us: it assisted in dislodging any stubborn oyster muscles and in the shucking at the end of the evening.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

Steve Feletti explaining how to shuck oysters. It's all about wriggling and pivoting the knife, firmly but not violently.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

We all had a go at the end with the leftover oysters, with varying degrees of success. Rumpole had to take off for a business dinner, but sent me some very sweet text messages thanking me and extolling the virtues of the Petit Clair versus the Angasi.

Shucking oysters

I was most chuffed when Andrew McConnell remembered me from when a mutual acquaintance introduced us at Cumulus Inc last July. He offered to supervise as I shucked my first oyster, giving me pointers and helping me adjust my grip. What a lovely man.

There's nothing quite like consuming an oyster mere seconds after you yourself have shucked it!

Shucking oysters with Andrew McConnell


bunchesmcginty said...

Um, wow.
Always jealous of your food adventures.

claire said...

I was jealous of that meal you had last week with the truffles!

The oyster tasting was good fun though. After I shucked my oyster I washed my complimentary oyster knife and tossed it into my capacious bag, whereupon I promptly forgot about it.
I received some pretty alarmed looks when I reached into my bag and whipped it out a few days later at a lawyer schmooze lunch thing, I can tell you.

thanh7580 said...

Ooooh I knew I should have gone to this. I was umming and ahhing about whether to go. Now seeing the photos, I should have gone. I absolutely love oysters.

I read all the info on the Moonlight Flat website, their oysters sound amazing. I'm thinking of buying myself that oyster knife too.

I'm sure the other lawyers got a shock when they saw the knife. They must have thought you got into criminal law or something and that was evidence A.

Agnes said...

That sounds such a great night! The thought of shucking oysters makes me nervous - did you find it easy to pick up?

claire said...

Hi Thanh. Yeah the class was totally worth it!
"So why are you carrying a concealed knife in your handbag Claire?"
"Oh, it's not a real knife, it's - OW that's sharp - just an oyster knife they gave us at an oyster tasting I went to."
"............... so why are you carrying a concealed oyster knife in your handbag Claire?"

Hi Agnes! I'd like to say that I was a natural shucking virtuoso, but I was pretty clumsy. Luckily Andrew was there in the pinch to give me a hand. :)

thanh7580 said...

Claire, so you can shuck your own oysters now at home?

I'm really considering buying an oyster knife but if it's really hard to shuck an oyster, then I think I will get frustrated and give up.

Is it worth investing in a knife?

Aaron said...

Hey I was at this class too. I actually signed up so I could learn how to like oysters. Gagged on the first 7, and the last 3, FINALLY I'm like, hey, I don't need to drown the oyster in alcohol, it's actually OK!

Must admit I can't remember everything taught at the class, Steve's knowledge on oysters was unbelievable. Great class tho, shucking is fun

PS: The stout was crazy good! I had so many, prob the reason I lost my oyster knife after doh!