The organisers of the 2021 Narooma Oyster Festival have every reason to smile this week. The 2021 event was a sellout, the first time in the event’s 12-year history. Oyster sales were up 50% from the last event held in 2019 with a whooping 70,000 oysters consumed. “We held a famil with Sydney food media over the weekend and were told that it’s the best food festival in Australia at the moment,” said festival chair Cath Peachey. If that’s not impressive enough, the weather turned it on with spectacular sunny blue skies for the 6,000 people that came through the gates over the course of the two-day event. This is up from 5,000 at the last festival in 2019.
“If we were not restricted in capacity to meet our covid safe plan, those numbers would have been much higher; we were overwhelmed with ticket requests once the event sold out,” said Ms Peachey. “We’re still crunching the numbers but the direct impact of the festival on the local economy will be in the millions of dollars.” Friday night’s activities included live music on the main stage and the For the Love of the Land dinner with chefs Dave Campbell and Nick Gardner who have 6 chef hats between them. The Long Table Dinner guests, including NSW Tourism Minister The Hon. Stuart Ayres, enjoyed a balmy night under the stars on the Wagonga Inlet foreshore with sensational food by high-end Free Range Catering. “The Long Table Dinner selling out in three minutes is indicative of the demand for these kinds of experiences,” said Ms Peachey. To end the first day of the festival, the crowd joined festival ambassador Paul West counting down to the fireworks with all of Narooma enjoying the display - the first since NYE 2018.
L-R Caroline McGrath and Immy Love Local stallholders Immy and Caroline of Salt Of The Coast had a fun time on Friday night. Here they are showing the local producers used in their festival menu. Producers included Narooma Seafood Direct, Tuross Butchery, Borrowed Ground and Old Mill Road Long lines along Oyster Alley on Saturday helped boost oyster sales for local farmers in attendance, a welcome following the devastation of long estuary closures following the recent floods. There were oysters from six South Coast estuaries – Shoalhaven River, Clyde River, Wagonga Inlet, Wapengo Lake, Merimbula Lake and Pambula Lake – with the farmers selling out on Saturday afternoon. Visitors were also able to sample a range of South Coast produce like abalone and lobster, as well as different flavours like sea urchin roe ice cream. The Ultimate Appellation Oyster Experience lived up to its name taking guests on a journey through the unique flavours of the Rock oyster. Host Paul West said the South Coast is to oysters what Champagne is to wine, a comparison that is a nod to the superior quality of South Coast oysters and to the terms merroir and terroir. Shucking Competition judge John Susman, who is better known as Sydney Royal Aquaculture Chair of Judges, said it’s Narooma’s version of the Melbourne Cup. The crowd was roaring at the shucking competition when Sally McLean of Jim Wild’s Oysters out shucked reigning champion Sue McIntyre of Broadwater Oysters by 0.3 seconds to return the women’s trophy to the Shoalhaven. Pippa Boyton from Merimbula Gourmet Oysters came third place in the exhilarating finals.
L-R Sue McIntyre, John Susman and Sally McLean Sally McLean from Jim Wild’s Oysters in the Shoalhaven won the shucking competition shucking 30 oysters in 3 minutes 11 seconds followed 0.3 seconds later by Sue McIntyre from Broadwater Oysters in Pambula When the men stepped on stage their smiles quickly turned serious as they expertly shucked an oyster in under 6 seconds. Gerard “Doody” Dennis from Australia’s Oyster Coast finally broke the under 3-minute mark to claim victory and keep the trophy.
Brothers Jim and John Yiannaros from Batemans Bay Oysters were seconds behind Doody in a very close final that had the crowd on the edges of their seats screaming. “One of our media guests said it [the shucking competition] is hands down the best thing they had ever seen at a Festival,” said Ms Peachey.
Brothers John and Jim Yiannaros competed against Doody Dennis in the men’s finals. Another crowd favourite is the Biggest Oyster Competition. The favourite for the win this year was Batemans’s Bay farmer Bernie Connell’s oyster ‘Jack’. Weighing in at 2.71kg ‘Jack’ did not disappoint claiming the title of Biggest Oyster and is now considering having another crack at the Guinness World Records.
L-R Paul West and Bernie ConnellA victorious Bernie Connell holds up ‘Jack’, the 2021 winner of the Biggest Oyster Competition Kirk Hargreaves from Oysters on the Clyde entered his pet oyster ‘Uncle Ray’ who claimed second place weighing in at an impressive 2.33kg. Cath Peachey explained that the oyster farmers really look after their pet oysters, with the condition and weight improving each year. “The 2019 winner ‘Hagrid’ weighed in at 2.25kg so even in second place at 2.33kg ‘Uncle Ray’ was an impressive heavy weight,” said Ms Peachey. Seats in the cooking program were hot property with the chef producer combination a winning recipe. Bangalay Dining executive chef Simon Evans was paired with producer Chris Theodore from Sea Urchin Harvest and Pialligo Estate executive chef Mark Glenn showed his talent for technique cooking with Narooma Abalone.
L-R Kelly Eastwood, John Blankenstein and Sean Connolly Cooking Program MC Kelly Eastwood of Eastwood’s Deli and Cooking School had a blast onstage with Chef Sean Connolly and John Blankenstein of Mimosa Rock Oysters for the cooking demonstrations “The smell of the charcoal grilled abalone with shiitake and mussel broth cooking was making my mouth water,” said Cooking Program host Kelly Eastwood of Eastwood’s Deli and Cooking School. “If abalone wasn’t on the shopping list before, it certainly is now.” Merivale’s Jordan Toft of mimi’s in Coogee took to the stage with fisherman Jason Moyce, known online by his 8-k+ following as ‘The Trapman’. Ms Eastwood said those in the front row lucky enough to sample Jordan’s slowly cooked lobster with sea succulent and finger lime butter received a teaser of Merivale in Narooma. My Kitchen Rules and My Family Feast host Sean Connolly has some of Australia and New Zealand’s best restaurants to his name including The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room. When Sean took to the stage with fellow charismatic bloke John Blankenstein from Mimosa Rock Oysters, they were cooking premium oysters with rockstar magic. According to early feedback, other highlights include the Indigigrow stand selling Australian bushfoods, the Wagonga Land Council bushtucker, and the River of Art alley and interactive installation. With the festival over for another year, Ms Peachey said the board are now focusing their efforts on activating their destination dining events and the Narooma Rocks oyster van, which was officially launched at the event. Narooma Oyster Festival is proudly supported by Australia’s Oyster Coast, Eurobodalla Coast Tourism, Destination NSW, Whale Coast Realty, Club Narooma, Southern Phone Company and local business sponsors. The 2022 festival is schedule for 6-7 May. Photos: Narooma Oyster Festival.