SEATTLE — Tad Stearns has never in his life liked seafood.
That was a bit of a problem, he says, growing up with an enthusiastic, seafood-loving dad.
So, it was no small irony that Tad, now 28, took a job as an oyster shucker in Seattle several years ago, and Nov. 8 captured the title of “World’s Best Oyster Shucker” at the Bearfoot Bistro World Oyster Invitational in Whistler, B.C.
“He thinks it’s hilarious,” Tad says of his dad, David Stearns. “He’s probably the one who gets the most enjoyment out of me shucking oysters. He used to give me a hard time because I don’t like seafood, and now I’m the only one who works in a seafood restaurant.”
The Whistler invitational drew 16 competitors, some from as far away as Denmark, France and Japan, Stearns said. He captured the prize for being the fastest to cleanly shuck 30 oysters — 10 each of three different varieties.
“The way it ended up, one of the varieties was the Olympic oyster, the only oyster that’s indigenous to Washington,” he said. “They’re the size of a silver dollar, and a lot of the others had never shucked that size of oyster before.”
Stearns took home $5,000, a trophy and a jade-handled shucking knife.
“I don’t know how to deal with the excitement,” says a very mellow Stearns. “I think everyone is more excited to actually know the world’s fastest oyster shucker than I am to actually be it.”
Stearns grew up in Wenatchee and was living here when his best friend, Jason Thotsaraj, went to work as a shucker at Seattle’s Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle. Shuckers use a special knife to pry open the oyster’s protective shell and scoop out the tender mollusk.
Jason urged Stearns to become a shucker, too. A few years ago, he finally made the move.
“It turned out to be one of the funnest jobs I’ve ever had,” Stearns said. “There’s something really satisfying about cracking an oyster open. If an oyster is done well, it can change a person’s day.”
Elliott’s hugely popular happy hours kept the shuckers busy.
“It was just non-stop shucking oysters from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.,” he said. “We’d start working and would be so busy that around 5 or 6 p.m. the garbage — an industrial-size garbage container — would be full of just the shells.”
Then, about a year ago, he took a job with Taylor Shellfish and oyster bars, also in Seattle. The company staged an in-house shucking competition last summer. Stearns finished first, narrowly beating his buddy Jason, who now works there, too.
The prize was $500 and a trip with the company owner to the Whistler for the Bearfoot Bistro invitational. The rest is history.
“It’s funny how oysters have been an underlying theme in my life,” he said, recalling how impressed he was when he was on a camping trip as a kid and saw oyster shells for the first time — a big mound of them.
Then, in 2007, his dad David was eating one of several oysters he bought at the old East Wenatchee Food Pavilion supermarket and grilled up at home. Inside were 18 tiny pearls. That story made The Wenatchee World, too.
And now, Stearns is a world-champion shucker. But he still doesn’t like seafood and has only rarely eaten an oyster.
“They don’t make any sense to me,” he said. “They taste like seawater and slime.”
Christine Pratt: 665-1173