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Shuck yeah! 

Can't wait to slurp oysters in Morro Bay

Opening an oyster is like trying to wiggle a key into a lock. Don’t apply pressure, and always go at a 45-degree angle until you see water bubble out of the other end. Scrape the knife along the top flat side of the shell to free it without cutting the oyster,” Neal Maloney, owner of the Morro Bay Oyster Company, explained during an informative discussion promoting his local business. His audience was a group of consumers who buy fresh fish weekly, caught by local fishermen like Captain Mark Tognazzini and many others fishing the abundant Pacific. Besides the fact that Maloney makes it look like child’s play to open the hard-shelled bivalve, he provided an interesting explanation about the taste of his Pacific Gold oysters: “Each part of the body has different flavors that are sweet or salty.” In fact, true oyster lovers appreciate that and chew them to savor each flavor.

- BAY FARM :  Neal Maloney (right) boats out to his oyster operation in the back end of Morro Bay. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • BAY FARM : Neal Maloney (right) boats out to his oyster operation in the back end of Morro Bay.

This year, the inaugural Central Coast Oyster Festival will take place at the Morro Bay Golf Course on Saturday, June 16, from noon to 8 p.m. Morro Bay Oyster Company (MBOC), which farms Pacific Gold oysters, has the starring role.

Although the focus is on oysters during this tribute to bivalves, other foods will be provided, as will a selection of good wines and brews. One of the most affordable events I’ve seen in a while, it only costs $20 entry if you buy tickets in advance; otherwise, it will cost you $28 at the gate. Children’s tickets, for ages 3 to 12, are only $10 each, and kids younger than 3 get in free. Once inside, food and beverages are purchased separately.

Beside the venue’s awesome views of the bay, you’ll enjoy live entertainment from four great bands, see two oyster competitions, and get your fill of delicious treats and libations. This excellent Central Coast-themed event benefits OPTIONS Family of Services, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities achieve their goals and realize their dreams of a rightful place as full citizens of the community.

Nine local chefs will compete to win the award for best oyster of the Central Coast. These seafood experts will prepare those awesome MBOC oysters in raw or cooked dishes. Their signature recipes for oysters will be judged before the festival takes place by a group of eight celebrity judges, including myself.  We will choose the winner of the contest by rating the contestants on creativity, presentation, taste, and we’ll be looking for the OMG! factor. The winner will be announced at the festival at 2 p.m. There will be a shucking competition in which anyone, professional chef or home cook, can participate at 4 p.m. However, you must sign up by 2 p.m. to be included. If Neal Maloney is competing, it’s pretty much guaranteed you’re gonna need to practice before the festival.

- NEITHER PAPER NOR PLASTIC :  Bags of sorted oysters sit ready to be delivered to various restaurants throughout the Central Coast. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • NEITHER PAPER NOR PLASTIC : Bags of sorted oysters sit ready to be delivered to various restaurants throughout the Central Coast.

Not all of the participating restaurants are competing for best oyster, but here’s the list of restaurants that will be at the fest cooking tasty treats: Chino’s Rock & Tacos, Full of Life Flatbread, Giancarlo’s, Haute Skillet Mobile Truck, Lickety Split Cupcakes, MoTav, Neon Carrot, Pacifica Catering, Palazzo Giuseppe, Raku SLO, Rooster Creek Tavern, Schooner’s, Tenth Street Basque Café, Thai Bounty, Tipsy Gypsy’s Granada Bistro Truck, and Tognazzini’s.

There will also be a unique oyster micro-brew, specially made by Tap It Brewing, and it will only be available during CCOF. OPTIONS plans to make this an annual event in Morro Bay, so it’s likely you’ll find Tap It’s oyster micro-brew there every year. I also look forward to the pairing of oysters with the selected wines that will be poured that day, including Baileyana, Bodegas M, Center of Effort, Jack Hammer, Hearst Ranch, Osseus, Pomar Junction, Speizer Family Farms, Tangent, and Zocker. The featured sparkling wine, usually my favorite wine with oysters, will be made by Baileyana. If you’re a local, you know that it’s made by Christian Roguenant, long known for making outstanding sparkling wines at Maison Deutz, which was sold and renamed Laetitia (after which Roguenant moved to Baileyana; both brands produce excellent local bubblies).

On Friday, June 15, OPTIONS’ event director, Jacqueline Delaney, organized a very special abalone dinner by chef Maegen Loring at Hoppe’s Garden Bistro in Cayucos. The evening begins at 5 p.m. in Cayucos, where guests will board a shuttle to ride to the Abalone Farm for a farm-to-table experience with general manager Brad Buckley. They’ll enjoy abalone samples with bubbly to whet their appetites. At 7 p.m. they’ll be returned to dine in the gorgeous garden at Hoppe’s, where Loring is preparing the five-course epicurean dinner paired with sparkling and still Central Coast wines. Hoppe’s pastry chef Robert Mayfield will prepare a seasonal strawberry dessert for a sweet conclusion. Seating is limited and must be arranged in advance; cost is $175 per person. Contact Delaney at jdelaney@optionsf.org. For all the details about CCOF, go to centralcoastoysterfestival.com.

Another interesting aspect to this Saturday food lover’s event is the pagoda structure by The Do LaB, which takes an organic approach in its event production and creative lighting. The pagoda will house the aphrodisiac lounge, an adult-themed bar that will feature raw oysters, sparkling and still wines, the oyster micro-brew, exotic cocktails, cheeses, and chocolate. With that in mind, you just might want to leave the kids with the sitter and attend with the love of your life. Why not make date night the entire day, and enjoy the show at the diverse Central Coast Oyster Festival?

Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com.

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