Shucking and thriving: BR’s Duke Landry heading to world oyster shucking show-down _lowres

Photo by REID SILVERMAN -- Duke Landry of Louisiana backs away from his tray during his championship match-up Sunday against Lisa Bellamy of North Carolina during the U.S. Oyster Shucking Contest at the 48th annual Oyster Festival. Landry would go on to claim the title, 2014 United States National Oyster Shucking Champion.

Shucking oysters is like riding a bicycle for Duke Landry.

Landry won the National Oyster Shucking Championship Oct. 18-19 in Leonardtown, Maryland, qualifying him for next year’s world championships in Galway, Ireland. Since he’d won three previous U.S. titles, that’s not a shock.

But the last of those championships was 25 years ago.

“I really surprised myself,” he said. “I haven’t opened oysters, shoot, in probably six months at the restaurant. That was kind of neat. I might be faster not opening oysters.”

Landry, 57, is part of the family that has operated Don’s Seafood restaurants for 80 years, owned the Baton Rouge location until three months ago, and plans to start Duke’s Seafood and Steak House next year in Livingston Parish. He’s been in the business since he was a teen.

“It was part of the industry, whether we were cleaning fish or opening oysters or cooking or peeling shrimp or whatever,” he said. “It’s just one of the duties.”

After a restaurant employee won the 1985 state championship, Landry gave it a try. He won the next year, earning a trip to the nationals, where he won the men’s championship and lost the showdown with the women’s champion by a half-second. Landry returned and won the next year’s championship and three of the next four.

A rule at the time retired three-time winners from further competitions. But that was changed, and Landry competed the past two years before winning again this year.

Competitors are timed on how fast they can shuck 24 oysters and present them on the half shell. Time penalties are added if the oyster meat is not completely severed from the shell, if there are additional cuts or dirt on the meat or if there are any oysters missing.

When Landry competed in the 1980s, he set a record for a time of 2 minutes and 20 seconds, including penalties. During a preliminary competition this year, he posted a time of 2:19. One of his brothers, Doug, won this year’s amateur competition.

Landry said he concentrates on having the fewest penalties, but still works quickly. His wife, Betty, helps by counting off five-second intervals.

When Landry last competed in the world championships in 1990, he finished third in speed and first in presentation. He said the type of oyster used in that competition is different — lighter, with a more delicate shell — that requires a different opening technique.

“As we get closer, there are a few companies that farm-raise oysters up on the Chesapeake Bay area, and it’s real close to the Irish oyster, so we’ll have some brought in and practice,” he said.