THE summer music festivals may be done and dusted, but food festival season is well and truly underway!
Should you be partial to a freshly shucked oyster and creamy pint of stout, the Murphy’s Cork Oyster and Seafood Festival will be right at the top of your list.
The festival takes place from September 21 to 23 and promises to be a weekend long, high octane celebration of oysters and seafood.
All events are based at the historic Metropole Hotel and include oyster shucking competitions, cookery demonstrations, talks, food trails, a gala dinner and plenty of opportunities to ‘shuck and suck’.
A fine sprinkling of celebrity chefs including Derry Clark, chef-proprietor of L’Ecrivain in Dublin, World Champion Oyster Shucker ‘Paddy the Shucker’, plus chef and star of TV3’s The Lazy Chef, Simon Lamont.
I caught up with Simon to find out about his Cork connections and his love of all things oyster.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
“I’m originally from Dublin, living in London for nine years. I grew up in Dublin but my mother is from the Collins’ Barracks area of Cork. I travelled around a lot as a kid; we lived in Carlow, Galway, Dallas and eventually settling back in Dublin where I went to DIT and studied a BA in Culinary Arts.
“I was destined to work with seafood. My mum says that the night before she went into labour, she had a dream a fisherman was calling to her to name her child Simon, so she did! When we lived in Galway, I was always drawn to seafood, the mussels especially, and I’ve always said my mum makes the best ever fish finger sandwich!
“My favourite food memories are filled with great seafood, it’s the ultimate fast food, and the less you do to it the better. My first job after college was at Brasserie Na Mara in Dun Laoghaire; later I moved to London and started working at the London Oyster House and then spent four years in South Africa.
“I decided to come back to Ireland when it was in the grip of the recession. I left a good job in South Africa without any real understanding of how bad it was back home. I was working jobs just to pay the bills until one day I packed a bag and headed to London to stay with a cousin of mine.
“London was agreeable; there were plenty of opportunities and I fell in love with it. I started working at Wright Brothers which was the seafood place in London.”
How was The Lazy Chef born?
“I’ve worked pretty much every station and role in the restaurant business. I’ve been a pastry chef, head chef and restaurant manager. While I was managing Wrights Brothers in Borough Market, I started a supper club called ‘Tasty Tuesdays’ just to keep my cookery skills fresh. I’d cater for 20 people at £50 per head on a first reply basis.
“One of the diners happened to be a TV producer originally from Dublin and living in London. After the supper club, he approached me and said that he was part of a production team working on a new concept for a TV show. He liked my ‘lazy approach’ to cookery and referred to me as a Lazy Chef — the name just stuck! Two years later in 2015, the show aired on TV3 and was a hit.”
The programme followed Simon on his travels around Ireland, meeting producers and farmers, many of whom, like him, had been hit hard by the recession, decided to take their last bit of redundancy money and put it into producing a cottage industry food or a herd of cows. Many of those featured have continued on to become a mainstay in Ireland’s celebrated food story.
How did you discover you had Shellfish Shucking Superpowers?
“While the restaurant manager at Wright Brothers, I made a point every Tuesday of stepping behind the counter to shuck and taste the oysters coming in. Oysters from different harvesting grounds in different countries at different times of the year all produce completely different flavours. Learning about that helped me to properly engage with our customers.
“It just so happened that I discovered I was pretty handy at it too! Eventually, I partnered up and opened ‘Shuck’, a street-style oyster shack in Borough Market. And we were busy, shucking thousands of oysters every day, 25 cases in a single afternoon. Eventually, I started entering oyster shucking competitions.”
From the success of Shuck, Simon now owns and runs Rocks Oyster Grill.
“I want to make oysters trendy for a younger generation, running masterclasses and workshops. There’s a rhythm to shucking oysters – like a dance, my body’s swaying as I’m opening the shells. I can open an oyster every five seconds, but I’m not the fastest!”
What’s your favourite way to eat oysters?
“Completely naked and absolutely no condiments, they’re not necessary! I love the saline, mineral hit you get when you eat an oyster.
“The absolute best time to eat them is during the colder months, between November and March. The oysters are at their most sedate conserving energy and all the nutrients inside, plump and sweet. Of course, Irish oysters are the best in the world!”
Are you looking forward to The Murphy’s Cork Oyster and Seafood Festival?
“Oh, I can’t wait! The craic is always mighty in Cork and when it comes to the produce, there is nowhere better! It is simply great, honest food. This will be my first time coming to Cork since I filmed there for The Lazy Chef – I’m really looking forward to seeing how food has developed since then!”