Ever sidled up to a saloon-styled caravan to order six types of freshly shucked New Zealand oysters?
If you didn’t visit Wellington On a Plate’s Oyster Saloon, then your answer is likely to be no.
The brain child of festival chair Rachel Taulelei, the Oyster Saloon marked the first time that six different varieties of live New Zealand oysters were all available on the one menu.
And the concept was a huge hit, with Rachel, along with oyster farmers and chefs from around the capital, shucking thousands of live oysters to order during the two-week festival.
“I was expecting a positive response, but it far and away exceeded my expectations with how popular it became. There was amazing interest in the diversity of oysters and in comparing them side by side.”
“There’s a terroir that gives each oyster a slightly different flavour profile specific to the area they are grown in.
“I don’t think there was a single person there who’d ever had six different New Zealand oysters in one sitting.
“And so many people had never had a live oyster before.”
On the menu were:
Te Matuku Bay oysters – “gentle, honest and salty with a hint of caramel.”
Stewart Island oysters: “Mild and eminently approachable. Laced with minerality, firm to the bite, creamy finish. Fifty shades of bodacious bivalve”
Orongo Bay oysters: “bright and maldon-like. Full in the shell, texture to the bite, lingering finish”
Mahurangi oysters: “Brilliantly unique and craggy disposition. Briny, savoury, fair and fulsome”
Tio Point oysters: “Succulent, plump, firm and salty with a delicious whack of minerality to finish”
Clevedon Coast oysters: “Soft, clean and refined with creamy undertones.”
While Rachel obviously has a talent for celebrating the story of local seafood, she says it’s important for farmers to develop their own story.
“I think it’s really important the farmers identify what is unique about their oyster. It’s important they believe it and then articulate it,. It attracts a value” she said.
And it’s the perfect time to reach a new generation of inquisitive oyster lovers.
“Our generation was raised on Bluff oysters and until lately, the holy grail of oysters was the Bluff. But increasingly, we’re starting to see the idea that while the Bluff oyster is good, the live oyster is a thing of beauty and so much work goes into farming them and it is a real treat to offer that in its original state,” Rachel said.