It was probably one of the more immature, irresponsible, and vain things I've done in a long time (up for debate), but as soon as I knew I was going to New Orleans, I knew I was taking on the 15 dozen challenge at Acme Oyster House. I'm not quite sure why, but I simply had to do it. I am by no means an eating contest type of guy (I actually find them quite revolting), but this was more about the Oysters and the culture surrounding them. Acme is a sort of Mecca for Oysters, much as Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York and Moran's in Galway are. And its obnoxiously edacious 15 dozen oysters in under an hour challenge is one of its bigger claims to fame. You may be familiar with it from Man vs. Food, where Adam Richmond attempts it...
Before we get into it, can we discuss the voodoo séance thing he goes to around minute 2? I feel there could have been a much more traditional person they could have chosen for this. Not being stereotypical, but if I ever go to a voodoo spiritualist, I don't expect her to look like a mid 40's soccer mom from Tampa. I know I'm wrong and she's probably a more than capable conjurer of the occult, but being a nationally televised program, they could have gone with somebody a bit more authentic N'awlins. Maybe it's just me.
Regardless, Adam doesn't just attempt it, he crushes it. 180 Oysters in 21 minutes. I was told he even ordered an Oyster Po' Boy to-go, afterwards. He, however, is a professional. You can imagine what my meager appetite was up against.
As soon as I arrived at Acme, there was a line out the door and a minimum 30 minute wait, as there apparently always is. I spoke with the hostess, who was very friendly, but from her abruptness with others, clearly a savvy veteran who's dealt with many a drunk and debaucherous NOLA tourist. She casually wrote "challenge" next to my name on the waiting list and told me it would be a 45 minute wait or so to get set up and have the Oysters shucked. I gathered my coworkers for support, waited, and finally entered. There was a special spot reserved at the bar in front of a giant mirror facing down so all the crowd could see this vainglorious endeavor.
I talked a little shit to and shook hands with both shuckers, Irving and Stormin' Norman (the shucker featured in the Man vs. Food video), and proceeded to have the rules both explained to me, and placed in front of me on a medical release to be signed by myself and a witness. This, honestly, is when I started to get real nervous and rather hesitant.
1. Must sign a medical release prior to eating the oysters.
2. Must be at least 21 years of age.
3. Must sit at the Oyster bar.
4. The competitor must eat 15 dozen Oysters in one hour to make the wall of fame, get a free hat and t-shirt, and pay half price.
5. If the competitor fails, he or she pays full price and will be publicly flogged, tarred, and feathered (just full price, plus demoralizing humiliation).
6. The competitor cannot vomit.
7. The competitor cannot leave the restaurant.
8. The competitor may use the restroom, but will be accompanied to ensure no "making space for more Oysters" occurs.
9. The competitor may not choose his or her own Oysters.
Damn, no turning back now. The management was also kind enough to allow me to shuck my first, and, optimistically, last Oyster, at my request. So, a couple pats on the back, inaugural shot of whiskey, personally SF Oyster Nerd shucked first Oyster, and off we go into the 15 plates of fist sized Gulf Oysters placed directly in front of me.
First, I'm sorry everyone, but Gulf Oysters aren't my favorite. Many people love them, though. At Acme they were as fresh as could possibly be, beautifully shucked, and perfect in every humanly controllable way. However, the ridiculous speed at which they grow in the wild and warm waters they come from precludes a well rounded, full flavored Oyster from developing. Apologies. It's my opinion. I can think of several exceptions off the top of my head, but a good guideline for seafood in general is the colder the water the better. Gulf Oysters are from about as warm as waters can get and are screaming for condiments (that's a rare thing for me to say). But in my situation, no accoutrements since I needed to save all the space I could. Towards the end, it felt like I was taking shots of slimy, flat soda water.
I knocked through 7 dozen in under 8 minutes or so. I was focused, man. Mouthfuls of 3, 4, sometimes 5 at a time. The hostess even asked me if I was trying to beat the speed record of 11 minutes. I politely responded "just trying to survive, miss." The advice I was given by a colleague was to do as many as I could as quickly as I could before my stomach had time to register with my brain what was going on. "As soon as you hit a wall and stop for a few minutes, game over," he said.
Well, that wall came at dozen number 9. I looked at the Oysters, nearly double in size of the previous platters', and locked eyes with Irving. He simply chuckled and said "that's the catch, buddy." They were rough. Really rough. Dozens 9-12 were by far the most difficult. Each platter the Oysters seemed to get bigger and bigger. I could no longer casually throw them back as I had with the first few platters. Each one took both body and mind power to shoot, pause, chew, and swallow. A couple even made me, "hiccup" we'll say. The shells had started cutting the sides of my mouth. All table manners were out the window (sorry Mom). Reckless use of napkins, sucking on lemons like after a tequila shot, Kobayashi-style jumps, and Oyster liquor everywhere (mostly on myself). An Oyster even got lost in transit from shell to palate and fell on to the bar. 5 second rule is universal.
However, to my surprise and to many others', I powered through. As soon as I had those last two dozen placed in front of me, I knew I had it conquered. My friend was kind enough to record the last half dozen and on to victory.
I didn't know a half hour was enough time for the crowd to get drunk enough to not be able to properly count, but it happened. And yes, I felt high. A single Oyster has the same amount of protein as 1/4 of a chicken breast and about 100mg of zinc (probably more considering how massive these were). Multiply that by 180, and you've got quite the "virility" shot. Seriously, look at my flushed face and shit-eating grin.
It was one of the more amazing experiences that I will never be doing again. After 28 minutes of mollusk mania, I received a free t-shirt, hat, and Oyster tote bag. I am also now the newest member of the Acme Oyster House 15 Dozen Club. My name is even going to be posted on their website and wall of fame in December. Can't wait to take my grand kids there in 60 years and point to the board and say "respect," ha!
The SF Oyster Nerd