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Passion on a shell

Words: Yeung Nga Ting | Photos: Dalene Botha

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Last week, patrons of the Knysna Oyster Festival’s Flavours of Knysna devoured thousands of oysters and sipped flavourful wine with friends and family.One of the many highlights of the 31st annual Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival was the gourmet evening, which proudly dished out over 8,500 oysters, featured the delicious fare of 12 local restaurants and offered guests an evening of much more than oysters.

Photo credit: Dalene Botha

Held on 9 July at the Festival Pavilion, the feast attracted more than 670 visitors, and the presence of six wine stalls definitely helped ward off the winter chill. With tickets to the event sold out and visitors queuing at the entrance, desperate to get in, the event was a roaring success. Starting at 6 p.m., this gastronomic affair couldn’t come early enough for the patrons, who were craving the mouth-watering delicacies on offer after a hectic day.

In the glamorous white pavilion, there was a wide variety of artistically decorated booths set up, many using an ocean theme, around the live entertainment stage. The melodic sound of Spanish music helped soothe tired guests, while creating a wonderful ambiance that invited you to indulge in a plethora of delicious molluscs.

A pocket-size ticket book allowed guests to sample an oyster from each of the restaurants, as well as try out the three-course menu prepared by the event sponsors, Pick n Pay. This year, the participating restaurants added their own innovative twist to the briny cultivated oysters.
"I want visitors to keep thinking about us. The flavour of our oysters carry on developing after eating it," said the Simola Hotel & Spa's Food and Beverage Manager, Chani Clarke.

A real treat was the Molecular Oyster prepared by Chef Delia Clarke, who smoked the oyster in yellow wood shavings for 45 seconds, then topped it with foam whipped from fresh lemon juice, water and soy lecithin, and served it with green Tabasco caviar. "Yellow smoke signifies the forest. Foam represents the mist that came through the heart and caviar means the life of the lagoon," added Chef Delia.

Photo credit: Dalene Botha

The winner of this year's Best Dressed Oyster award went to Die Gieter Deli and Restaurant for the Smoked Oyster Snapper; a seaweed roll of smoked oyster and crocodile pate, with Tabasco cavi-art, prepared by Dalene Botha.

The first runner-up went to the Orchid Room, from Simola Hotel, for the Molecular Oyster created by Delia Clarke. The second runner-up was Conrad Pezula for their bubbly poached oyster, with pickled porcini mushroom, potato and Amasi foam, all topped with a porcini dust dish.

"I wish people to have a good time and a big party with live music and drinks tonight," said John Harris, the manager of Tapas and Oysters, the restaurant that also won the Best Dressed Stand award. Harris, who won last year’s oyster cooking competition, explained that all the oysters were opened by experienced oyster shuckers only two hours before the competition started. "No one can open them before that time to keep it fresh and fair."

While the chefs worked flat out to keep up with demand from the crowds that flocked to the cosy little stalls young navy cadets assisting the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) and WWF walked around encouraging guests to taste the green-listed angelfish fillets.

As the night ended with guests relaxing by a large open fire in the outdoor area, the smell of the sea in the air stirred up feelings of appreciation for the Indian Ocean, where the oysters were cultivated and to which the locals are tied.
In truth, the Flavours of Knysna event evoked a sense of happiness and contentment that resonated with me long after the last flavours on my palette had subsided.