On the Gulf Coast, there’s no wrong way to eat an oyster, whether you like them raw, fried, chargrilled or a little fancied up — like oysters Rockefeller or Bienville.
At the Baton Rouge Oyster Festival on Saturday, May 18, oyster lovers from across south Louisiana will celebrate the versatility of the state’s favorite mollusk.
Area chefs will prepare inventive dishes using the briny-flavored bivalve, making oyster nachos, elaborately topped chargrilled oysters and other adventurous fare, said Eric Carnegie, one of the festival’s founders and a Baton Rouge restaurateur.
Organizers have ensured that each competitor comes with a different recipe, Carnegie said.
“We're not allowing everyone to do just oyster po-boys or chargrilled,” he said. “Everybody has to do different stuff. It challenges them, and it also gives the people attending the fest an opportunity to try some stuff they've never had before oyster-wise.”
The second edition of the festival has been moved a little earlier in the season. Last year, even in the heat of mid-June, the inaugural edition brought 6,000 to 7,000 people to downtown Baton Rouge.
“It's still pretty hot, but there's plenty of shaded area downtown where we can just get some people some reprieve,” Carnegie said.
The free festival will also test the speed with which folks can shuck and consume oysters. Last year, 24-year-old Laci Nguyen ate 55 oysters in two minutes to claim the oyster eating title.
“That's a lot,” Carnegie said. “There was no fork involved. She was just grabbing them with her hands.”
World class shuckers also will compete to see who is the fastest with a knife. Some of these shuckers can open oysters at a rate of nearly a dozen a minute.
The soundtrack to the festival will feature local band Meriwether and The Soul Rebels brass band from New Orleans. Toad the Wet Sprocket, an alternative radio mainstay in the 1990s, will headline the festival. The singles “Walk on the Ocean,” “Fall Down” and “Good Intentions” might ring a bell to anyone who turned on MTV two decades ago, and the band has continued to tour and write new music. The festival is one stop on the band's 30th anniversary tour.
While the festival is free, VIP tickets are available for $60 to $75 and includes a private bathroom, drink and food tickets, and a tented area with cooling fans.
Inside the Old State Capitol to the west of the main stage, the festival will host "Under the Shell," a series of speakers talking about the oyster industry, coastal conservation and, in the case of Adam Dale and Meriwether's Andrew Reilley, "a poignant conversation about the past present and future of local music scene, pickles and everything in between." A collection of exhibits will also educate visitors about the Louisiana seafood industry and the Gulf Coast.
A kid's zone will be set up on the Old State Capitol lawn from noon to 6 p.m. with obstacle courses and a circus arts interactive area.
Jolie Pearl, the oyster restaurant Carnegie co-owns on North Boulevard in downtown, will host the Bloody Revolution pre-party at 10:30 a.m. before the festival with a menu of live music and Bloody Marys.
Baton Rouge Oyster Festival
Noon to 11 p.m. Saturday
Galvez Plaza, 238 North Blvd., downtown Baton Rouge
Free admission. VIP tickets $60-$76.
10:30 a.m.: Bloody Revolution Pre-Party at Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar
Noon: Food vendors and bars open
1:30 p.m.: Oyster shucking competition
2:30 p.m.: J and the Causeways
3:45 p.m.: Adam Dale
4:45 p.m.: Oyster eating comptition
5:15 p.m.: Meriwether
7 p.m.: Soul Rebels
8:45 p.m.: Oyster cook-off winners announced
9 p.m.: Toad the Wet Sprocket