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Osoyoos Oyster Festival draws rave reviews from visitors
Oysters. The word alone inspires a gamut of responses.
Whether they’re raw, baked, smoked, deep-fried or barbecued, Quadra Island oyster farmer Kathy McLaggan, of Out Landish Shellfish Guild, says one thing is certain, South Okanagan residents love them.
“Osoyoos is one of our top destinations on the food and wine festival circuit. We get such a great response here,” she said.
McLaggan is one of five oyster farmers to participate in the annual Osoyoos Oyster Festival, which ran at various hotels, resorts, restaurants and wineries in Osoyoos and area from April 23 to April 27.
She has participated since the festival’s inception and attributes its growing popularity to the high level of organization, and of course, to the appeal of the oysters themselves.
“They are the perfect food,” McLaggan said.
“If you’re stranded on a desert island, you can survive for a long time on these. They have all the nutrition you need. They’re also a sustainable food. They’re good for the environment. Think about it. They come in their own packaging!”
According to McLaggan, a twelve year old oyster can pump 50 gallons of water per day.
The five-day event, now in its third year, drew roughly 40 food, wine, craft beer and oyster vendors to the area.
Crystal Hanson said she came from Kelowna for the festival after reading about its previous success online.
Hanson attended “Get Shucked” at Spirit Ridge as well as the festival’s signature event the “Art of the Oyster Pearl Gala, which was held at the Watermark Beach Resort. She said the event was one of the best food and wine events she’s been to and “can’t wait” to come back next year.
“This is just fabulous. I can see it getting bigger and bigger,” she told the Times.
With the festival’s growing success, organizers say they expect the festival will draw even more next year.
“It really saw tremendous growth since last year,” said Brianne Hearle, director of marketing with Destination Osoyoos.
“It’s success has been really encouraging. We think it has a lot of potential to bring awareness to the area as not just a wine destination, but a culinary destination as well.”
Hearle said DO’s decision to take over the festival from Walnut Beach Resort, which ran the festival in its two previous years, was an “easy one.”
To help raise the festival’s profile, Destination Osoyoos contracted Claire Sear to co-ordinate this year’s festival.
Sear, a former editor of British Columbia’s Eat Magazine, and self proclaimed “food enthusiast”, said she isn’t surprised by the festival’s success.
“Oysters are having their biggest renaissance since the 18th century,” Sear noted.
“They’re definitely trending and you can see why. They’re kind of sexy and they’re a social food. There’s all that slurping and sucking. Everyone ends up having a good time when oysters are involved.”
“Oysters are a hot product,” added Vancouver-based oyster farmer Mark Urwin, of 46 Degrees South Fish Co.
“And it’s thanks to organizers like the ones who put on festivals like this.”
Urwin, who originally hails from New Zealand, recently relocated to Vancouver from Toronto to capitalize on the West coast trend.
The Osoyoos festival was the first oyster festival he has attended in Canada.
He said he was impressed and plans to attend next year and bring several of his friends with him as well.
So what does Urwin love about oysters?
“The taste, first of all, of course,” he said. “But I also have an appreciation for all the work that goes into farming them. The thing I love most about them though is watching people try them and enjoy them.”
Special to the Times