Meet Patrick McMurray, popularly known as world champion Shucker Paddy. Born in Toronto, Canada he always learned about food from other cultures. Patrick got into the restaurant business at the age of 16 and the rest is history. The chatty bear team interviewed Chef the world champion shucker paddy for the Chatty Bear Chefs Unplugged.
Q1. Tell us about your beginning in the culinary industry. What inspired you to join this industry at the age of 16?
My first job was a butcher apprentice sweeping up after school learning how to make some basic cuts and working the deli counter on Saturday afternoons. I had that for about two years and then when the Butcher Shoppe retired closed up I was told about a job as a busboy in a restaurant downtown Toronto call Beaujolais. So I applied and got the job and started working on Friday and Saturday nights. And as a young fella of 16 years old working at night after school till late evening at 11 o’clock having great food French bistro cuisine noodle cuisine through the late 80s and walking out the door with $150 cash I thought this was a pretty cool gig.
Both my parents were teachers through and I thought that teaching was a career and restaurant life was not so my life plan then was to go to university to become a teacher to make enough money to all my own restaurant when I retire from being a teacher. But all through high school and university I did everything outside of school within the restaurant trade working at restaurants I ran all of the pubs for my school at UOfT and when I finally graduated (Kinesiology)I kind of understood that I really liked food and foodservice and started working at an oyster bar in Toronto and I was sort of the deal was that this was more fun, and I could pay the bills so I just dipped into Foodservice that way.
Q2. How did you find your love for Oyster?
I really don’t know how I came int the Oyster World. It all started really when I was working – after University, at Rodney oyster house. I was getting good at sucking oysters and as I like the taste of oysters, and helping customers understand oysters better, was sort of my thing. Customers would ask about the different oysters and I will explain to them the flavour that they’re going to experience. “You’re describing the Oyster like Wine” some would say. Most didn’t believe me until they actually tasted the oyster. The sense that I could help people through the discovery of something I’ve never had before was was really cool to me.
I worked my way up through the ranks of oyster shucking and by the time I left Rodneys after eight years to start my own restaurant Starfish I was top Shucker in Canada. I opened Starfish in 2002 and that’s the year won the world championships in Galway, and it just sort of snowballed from there. Guinness Book, writing a book, getting my knife made. I knew that this was sort of a ticket for me to promote the restaurant, and to continue doing well in the Oyster World.
Q3. How did you get to know about the world Championships of Oyster Opening – Galway, Ireland? You ended up becoming the only Canadian to have won this championship in 2002.
Rodney’s Oyster house in the mid-90’s was very competitive in the world of oyster shucking even within the House. All of the folks working there wanted to Shuck every shift but only one person could at a time. So there was drawing straws, there was arguing over who was good enough for that night.
When you were training as an apprentice shucker you had to work your way into the busiest nights – Friday Saturday night.
You started by shucking oysters for chowder in the kitchen. Then you graduated to lunches, early-week Monday&Tuesday. Then lunches mid to late week – Fridays. Only when you were good enough – can make a nice plate at a good speed, you could start Monday nights and then you had to just Shuck your way to the top – choice nights Thursday Friday Saturday.
It came down to who has the best ability to handle the job at the time and seems everybody wanted to do it. So it was inherently competitive.
Every year from 92 when I started there were oyster competitions. The Ontario championships which led to the Canadian championships in Prince Edward Island. If you won that, you get a trip to Ireland to compete at the world championships. From early on I realized that if a person gets good at oyster shucking in this restaurant, they get to do what they want to as far as the job goes, and then if you do well in competition you get a free trip to Prince Edward Island. If you win that you get a free trip to Ireland. So it was one of those things that I wanted to get good at and it was fun – it wasn’t a “regular restaurant job”.
The crazy part is because of my kinesiology degree in sport sciences, I changed the techniques of how oysters were shucked in competition, so that it was more time efficient and faster. Then I changed my knife design which was more ergo dynamic and the biomechanics of shucking oysters became an obsession while working. It was crazy sometimes – when it’s really busy and you sucking oysters and just moving really quickly – people are in awe of the skill of very good oyster shucker. It’s mesmerizing, watching the repetitive actions, but amazing at the same time.
I’m still the only Canadian to have won the world championships in Galway. I attempted four times and one at once and there’s been many since, Great shuckers all, but none of which passed Second.
Q4. Plz, share your experience with Guinness Book Records. You hold three records. How did that boost your life in the culinary world?
The world championships are great. But nothing compares to the Guinness Book for promotions. The ability to promote any time anywhere when you have a Guinness book of world records is relatively unknown to most people, except to those who have records. In the culinary world is absolutely crazy, but I will get calls to go on television shows and to talk about oysters in lectures and speaking engagements in the industry, mostly because I can talk about oysters… but really, most folks hear about the Guinness book of world records.
It wasn’t even my intention to try for the Guinness book of world records at first. I was asked to go on a TV show after I got back from Galway. The host asked what I wanted to do showcase in her show – maybe some shucking?
I said “watching me shuck Oysters is like watching paint dry, but there’s this Guinness world record at 27 oysters in a minute. Maybe we do that?” They loved the idea. So I went on the show attempted to 27 oysters and one minute I finished 33. After the videotape went to Guinness and came back a year later, I got my first Record.
After that TV shows would call out of the blue, just wanted me to try to break my record on the TV show. Five different shows five different attempts never broke at 33 was it for a number of years. Then I got a chance to go to China and I figured I’d practice a little bit further on this one and I broke that record to 38 oysters in a minute. And then in 2017, I got a call from the F word live with Gordon Ramsay to yet again try to break your record and I figured OK this will be a pretty good show.
Chef Ramsey and myself were supposed to go head to head battle to see who will break the record first. On the third attempt, I knocked out 39 oysters in one minute while the chef had a great attempt (as chefs have) at 17 oysters in the same minute. I also have 1114 oysters in one Hour. Part of team Canada where 10 Shuckers opened 8840 oysters in one hour and out of the ten participants I did the most at 1114.
I’m still asked to compete but most of the time I’d rather run the competition as a host, and let the others Shuck and try to get to the world championships for two reasons, 1) I don’t shuck as much as I used to and 2) I just like to run the show.
Q5. We met you at the Comox valley seafood festival and you were talking about different types of Oysters. Which ones are your favorite? And which ones are easy to shuck?
Yes in North America we have five different species of oysters and hundreds of different types that we can use in the restaurants. My favorites tend to be a European oyster – the big bold flavours of the ocean and meaty textures are just my favorite. Irish oysters tend to be one of my favourites overall.
We do have fantastic Oysters here as well – both east and west coast. Easiest Oysters to shuck? By far the East Coast oysters are easier to open and for some reason, Nova Scotian oysters from Cape Breton tend to be easiest of all.
Q6. What’s special about the Shucker Paddy Universal Oyster Knife?
The oyster knife is a pistol grip shape, non slip, with a dual axis through the blade and handle. 135° between the tip and tail, creating a fulcrum, that allows you to torque open the oyster with less force – therefore making it safer and easier to open and, with practice faster.
Q7. You are an author, inventor, chef, restaurateur, speaker, TV personality, and instructor. Which profile does the Shuker Paddy like for himself and why?
Good question. I think my favourite profile is that of the storyteller. Which, In the end, describes all of the above. Author, teacher, instructor TV personality speaker, and chef/restaurateur.
Q8. Are you still running your restaurants? Any plans for expansion?
Both restaurants are closed since 2018 – but yes, there are more ideas in the works – even in these crazy times. Nothing firm yet.
Q9. It’s said that the water quality where oysters are grown does not affect the quality of oysters. Is it true?
Oysters need great, high-quality water to grow in – IF you want to serve them to customers. Although Oysters may grow in most any environment, they may not thrive in poor water, and if contaminated water – will not be served to humans. Lots of testing before the Oyster is harvested and shipped to restaurants.
Q10. How do you identify good oysters from bad ones?
Know where the Oysters are from. Know the water, know the grower, and if you are a regular customer know, and trust your restaurant. Sometimes “bad oysters” that come from contaminated waters – vibrio, red tide etc… will not have a different smell or look – so you have to know where the Oyster is from.
As a Shucker, we can tell from shell quality, then meat quality, and then smell – is the Oyster smells “happy” fresh, oceans smell – its good. If the oyster smells of sulphur, rotten eggs, gas…then don’t serve it.
Q11. What food and wine combination do you like the most with an oyster?
I like Oysters mostly on their own – no sauces, so I can taste the great wine – Chablis, Muscadet or Champers. Guinness is fabulous with Irish Oysters, and Oysters & Whiskies pair very well – that’s a longer story…
Char-Grilled oysters are great in colder weather as well…
Q12. Any future plans you would like to share with our audience.
Working on my own Oyster Farm in PEI, and several Restaurant ideas with Hotels something expandable. Bit of a pipe dream, but then, so was opening my own restaurant back in the day…