Follow

Subscribe to the
WRG Newsletter

Join over 8,000 subscribers receiving exclusive content, private event invites, giveaways & more. No spam, ever. Just Really Good stuff.

* indicates required
Food + Drinks / by Christina Nordquist

Oyster Shucker Extraordinaire, Max Ruiz Laing

From sustainability to male virility we get the dish on our favorite bivalve

You could say that 23-year-old oyster shucker Max Ruiz Laing has found his calling in life.

After eating his first oyster while employed at the oyster haven that is Montreal’s Liverpool House, he has since moved on to Chuck Hughes’ flagship restaurant, Garde Manger, and proceeded to shuck hundreds more at GM’s sister seafood spot, Le Bremner.

In the spring of 2012, Max and his partners, Marly Sniatowsky and Edouard Petel Ruiz (a.k.a. Eddie), opened their seafood catering company, Choice Harbour. The team haul around a mahogany oyster bar, which weighs a ton, and shuck oysters on the spot in locations across Canada. Recently, they travelled around eastern Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, all the while documenting how the men and women who have made a career of fishing in the Atlantic Ocean live. These days, you can find him some late nights at Le Majestique’s oyster bar, where he is also part owner.

WRG: Do you remember your first oyster?

The first oyster I ever had was when I started working at Liverpool. I was 18 and that was my first legit restaurant job. It was my second or third day and Ryan (the manager) was like, “Hey Max, we got these new oysters in, have you ever tried an oyster?” I said no. He said, “Ok cool, you’re going to try one now.” They were doing Chinatown-style steamed oysters so they had the huge giant commercial oysters. So he shucks this huge oyster. I had zero experience with oysters, so I asked, “How do I eat it?” He told me just to put it in my mouth, raw, no garnish, nothing. I was like, “Ok, I guess this is how this goes…There’s no difference between this and any other oyster anywhere…” So I put it in my mouth, and it was pretty much like eating your own tongue.

WRG: So it was like having two tongues in your mouth.

Yeah pretty much, which nine times out of ten is great. But this time it was just a giant, slimy, cold oyster.

MaxRuiz-1

WRG: So how would you convince other first timers?

I’m very open to the fact that some people will never like oysters. I’ll never try to force them on people. If they want a really salty, really fresh little bite of the ocean, that’s what an oyster is to me. People need to be made aware of what they are getting themselves into. It’s a super salty, wet, cold thing that you’re putting in your mouth. But they’re really delicious! And if you don’t want it, that’s okay, because that leaves more for the rest of us.

WRG: What advice can you give to people who are afraid of eating a bad oyster?

Oh man, that’s hard to say because it’s fucking awful. It basically tastes like putting raw garbage in your mouth. But you can usually catch it by smelling it. Out of all the oysters that I’ve opened, and we’re talking tens of thousands of oysters, I’ve missed maybe five. But there are also different degrees of bad. The ultimate rule is “when in doubt, throw it out”, so if you have to question whether or not the oyster’s good, throw it away. Also, you have to eat oysters in a place where you know they are getting good stuff. A place that always offers five or six different kinds of oysters is having a hard time keeping them all fresh at the same time. Also, to have such a big selection, they usually get them on the cheap, which is never a good thing when it comes to oysters.

WRG: Would you say it’s a good rule of thumb to eat oysters in a place where they are opened in front of you?

Absolutely. It’s the same thing with the open kitchen concept. Show me the kitchen and I’ll be more inclined to eat there. Otherwise, it could be Dane Cook from Waiting opening your oysters.

Processed with VSCOcam with s2 preset

WRG: What’s with the rule that oysters should only be eaten in the months ending in ‘R”? Is it a fact or a myth?

It’s pretty much a transportation thing. At the beginning of the 1800s, when landlocked people started wanting oysters, they had to move them by train. You can imagine the trip by train in the 50s from New York to California. It takes weeks, and because there was no refrigeration, the oysters were just packed in hay. One bad oyster is enough to clear a restaurant. The smell coming from that train car must have been the end of the world! So basically, oysters were better transported in the colder months.

But also, like apples and oranges and asparagus, there’s a good time to eat them. Everything has a season. So, naturally blooming, really good oysters are found on the East Coast starting in September and going all the way to December. Starting in the fall, when their food becomes more abundant, that’s when the oysters get fat and juicy and delicious. Then, over the winter, they go dormant. What makes an oyster less good is its spawning cycle. When an oyster starts to reproduce in the spring, it uses up all of the stores it has built up over the winter. In the spring when the water gets warm enough, oysters start to spawn again, so the best time to eat them is before they release their spawn; Once they do, they’ll have depleted all of their oyster minerals and basically just become shells filled with oyster sperm. Now what people are doing is modifying the oysters so that they don’t reproduce, which means you can get really good oysters no matter when from anywhere.”

WRG: Is our consumption of oysters bad for the environment?

No. Aquaculture in and of itself in Canada is a two billion dollar industry that has been growing every year since the 80s when oysters really took off and the government started spending a lot money building up aquaculture farms. That pretty much means that we’re not using any of the natural oyster population.

In the 20s when they did tap out the natural oyster population, they had to figure out “How do we do this? How do we keep eating oysters without destroying the natural population?” Oysters take a significant amount of time to get to market size, especially here North of the Border. Ile de la Madeleine oysters, those take five years to get to medium size. Five years in one bite. Because oysters are filter feeding, meaning all they do is filter ocean water, they are excellent for the environment. Now that we’re not touching the natural populations, they’re starting to get larger and larger again. And the oyster farms themselves, because they’re in estuaries that are used commercially, are actually cleaning those bodies of water. So while natural oysters are busy cleaning our water, so are the commercially grown ones.

WRG: So what you’re saying is that if I’m in New Brunswick and I harvest my own oysters that I find in the ocean, I shouldn’t eat them because they’re filtering polluted ocean water?

Yes, definitely, because what they filter is totally uncontrolled, whereas commercial bodies of water where they grow shellfish are very controlled. The DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) does tests every week on every body of water that we use to grow oysters. You’ll see over the course of a year stoppages from certain places because of things like red tide and oil spills. They stop production and leave everything in the water, and they wait something like six weeks to be sure that the oyster has filtered out everything. And that’s an interesting thing because if you leave the oysters in their they will clean the water for you, and they themselves will also be clean. So they’re not only good for the economy, they’re also good for the ocean.

WRG: What’s your favorite oyster right now and why?

Definitely Duxbury Bay. They’re delicious. You need tidal inflow and outflow so that oysters can get fed. It brings the phytoplankton, which is their food, and which also takes away the waste. That why Duxbury Bay on the mainland side of Cape Cod is so good, the tidal exchange is one of the highest on all of the Eastern seaboard.

WRG: What your worst oyster shucking injury?

I had pretty bad nerve damage. I was at Garde Manger, and I was so mad because James (the chef) made me open two dozen oysters at the end of the night after I had already closed and cleaned the oyster station. So I’m all pissed, opening the oysters, and I slam myself brutally in the hand. I feel the shock all the way up into my armpit. My hand starts bubbling blood, I have a gaping wound, and there is blood everywhere. They sent me home, and the next day I couldn’t grip anything with my left hand. I had touched a nerve and was out of commission for a week.

WRG: So moral of the story, don’t open up oysters angry?

No, don’t open them when you’re angry. Open them when you’re drunk but definitely not when you’re angry.

MaxRuiz-2

WRG: So, the big question is, are they really an aphrodisiac?

Oysters have a lot of zinc, so in three ounces of oyster meat, there’s seven hundred times your daily zinc intake. Zinc helps produce testosterone, and testosterone is linked to your sexual drive. But arguably that means that it helps men. Will you get seven times your daily zinc intake and turn that into testosterone, and then get super horny by the time you’ve got home with your date? And do you really want to give her more testosterone? Really you should eat a load of oysters, go home with your wife, and then sneak out at 5am and go to Unity to party with a bunch of gay men. Then you’ll really have a good time. Come to think of it, they should really do buck-a-shucks at Unity. The oysters, the zinc, the testosterone…that shit would really explode.

WRG: Totally. I’m there. But still, oysters are more associated with women, aren’t they?

Yes, to be sure it’s a sexy food. It all goes hand in hand with the experience. It’s oysters and champagne and vodka, decadence, boats…They’re expensive. They’re a luxury item, so pretty much money is the real aphrodisiac, not oysters. That is the truth above all, money is what gets people going, not zinc. Other than that, you’re eating something sort of wet and slippery…

WRG: Thanks Max, I think we get the picture.

You could say that 23-year-old oyster shucker Max Ruiz Laing has found his calling in life.

After eating his first oyster while employed at the oyster haven that is Montreal’s Liverpool House, he has since moved on to Chuck Hughes’ flagship restaurant, Garde Manger, and proceeded to shuck hundreds more at GM’s sister seafood spot, Le Bremner.

In the spring of 2012, Max and his partners, Marly Sniatowsky and Edouard Petel Ruiz (a.k.a. Eddie), opened their seafood catering company, Choice Harbour. The team haul around a mahogany oyster bar, which weighs a ton, and shuck oysters on the spot in locations across Canada. Recently, they travelled around eastern Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, all the while documenting how the men and women who have made a career of fishing in the Atlantic Ocean live. These days, you can find him some late nights at Le Majestique’s oyster bar, where he is also part owner.

WRG: Do you remember your first oyster?

The first oyster I ever had was when I started working at Liverpool. I was 18 and that was my first legit restaurant job. It was my second or third day and Ryan (the manager) was like, “Hey Max, we got these new oysters in, have you ever tried an oyster?” I said no. He said, “Ok cool, you’re going to try one now.” They were doing Chinatown-style steamed oysters so they had the huge giant commercial oysters. So he shucks this huge oyster. I had zero experience with oysters, so I asked, “How do I eat it?” He told me just to put it in my mouth, raw, no garnish, nothing. I was like, “Ok, I guess this is how this goes…There’s no difference between this and any other oyster anywhere…” So I put it in my mouth, and it was pretty much like eating your own tongue.

WRG: So it was like having two tongues in your mouth.

Yeah pretty much, which nine times out of ten is great. But this time it was just a giant, slimy, cold oyster.

MaxRuiz-1

WRG: So how would you convince other first timers?

I’m very open to the fact that some people will never like oysters. I’ll never try to force them on people. If they want a really salty, really fresh little bite of the ocean, that’s what an oyster is to me. People need to be made aware of what they are getting themselves into. It’s a super salty, wet, cold thing that you’re putting in your mouth. But they’re really delicious! And if you don’t want it, that’s okay, because that leaves more for the rest of us.

WRG: What advice can you give to people who are afraid of eating a bad oyster?

Oh man, that’s hard to say because it’s fucking awful. It basically tastes like putting raw garbage in your mouth. But you can usually catch it by smelling it. Out of all the oysters that I’ve opened, and we’re talking tens of thousands of oysters, I’ve missed maybe five. But there are also different degrees of bad. The ultimate rule is “when in doubt, throw it out”, so if you have to question whether or not the oyster’s good, throw it away. Also, you have to eat oysters in a place where you know they are getting good stuff. A place that always offers five or six different kinds of oysters is having a hard time keeping them all fresh at the same time. Also, to have such a big selection, they usually get them on the cheap, which is never a good thing when it comes to oysters.

WRG: Would you say it’s a good rule of thumb to eat oysters in a place where they are opened in front of you?

Absolutely. It’s the same thing with the open kitchen concept. Show me the kitchen and I’ll be more inclined to eat there. Otherwise, it could be Dane Cook from Waiting opening your oysters.

Processed with VSCOcam with s2 preset

WRG: What’s with the rule that oysters should only be eaten in the months ending in ‘R”? Is it a fact or a myth?

It’s pretty much a transportation thing. At the beginning of the 1800s, when landlocked people started wanting oysters, they had to move them by train. You can imagine the trip by train in the 50s from New York to California. It takes weeks, and because there was no refrigeration, the oysters were just packed in hay. One bad oyster is enough to clear a restaurant. The smell coming from that train car must have been the end of the world! So basically, oysters were better transported in the colder months.

But also, like apples and oranges and asparagus, there’s a good time to eat them. Everything has a season. So, naturally blooming, really good oysters are found on the East Coast starting in September and going all the way to December. Starting in the fall, when their food becomes more abundant, that’s when the oysters get fat and juicy and delicious. Then, over the winter, they go dormant. What makes an oyster less good is its spawning cycle. When an oyster starts to reproduce in the spring, it uses up all of the stores it has built up over the winter. In the spring when the water gets warm enough, oysters start to spawn again, so the best time to eat them is before they release their spawn; Once they do, they’ll have depleted all of their oyster minerals and basically just become shells filled with oyster sperm. Now what people are doing is modifying the oysters so that they don’t reproduce, which means you can get really good oysters no matter when from anywhere.”

WRG: Is our consumption of oysters bad for the environment?

No. Aquaculture in and of itself in Canada is a two billion dollar industry that has been growing every year since the 80s when oysters really took off and the government started spending a lot money building up aquaculture farms. That pretty much means that we’re not using any of the natural oyster population.

In the 20s when they did tap out the natural oyster population, they had to figure out “How do we do this? How do we keep eating oysters without destroying the natural population?” Oysters take a significant amount of time to get to market size, especially here North of the Border. Ile de la Madeleine oysters, those take five years to get to medium size. Five years in one bite. Because oysters are filter feeding, meaning all they do is filter ocean water, they are excellent for the environment. Now that we’re not touching the natural populations, they’re starting to get larger and larger again. And the oyster farms themselves, because they’re in estuaries that are used commercially, are actually cleaning those bodies of water. So while natural oysters are busy cleaning our water, so are the commercially grown ones.

WRG: So what you’re saying is that if I’m in New Brunswick and I harvest my own oysters that I find in the ocean, I shouldn’t eat them because they’re filtering polluted ocean water?

Yes, definitely, because what they filter is totally uncontrolled, whereas commercial bodies of water where they grow shellfish are very controlled. The DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) does tests every week on every body of water that we use to grow oysters. You’ll see over the course of a year stoppages from certain places because of things like red tide and oil spills. They stop production and leave everything in the water, and they wait something like six weeks to be sure that the oyster has filtered out everything. And that’s an interesting thing because if you leave the oysters in their they will clean the water for you, and they themselves will also be clean. So they’re not only good for the economy, they’re also good for the ocean.

WRG: What’s your favorite oyster right now and why?

Definitely Duxbury Bay. They’re delicious. You need tidal inflow and outflow so that oysters can get fed. It brings the phytoplankton, which is their food, and which also takes away the waste. That why Duxbury Bay on the mainland side of Cape Cod is so good, the tidal exchange is one of the highest on all of the Eastern seaboard.

WRG: What your worst oyster shucking injury?

I had pretty bad nerve damage. I was at Garde Manger, and I was so mad because James (the chef) made me open two dozen oysters at the end of the night after I had already closed and cleaned the oyster station. So I’m all pissed, opening the oysters, and I slam myself brutally in the hand. I feel the shock all the way up into my armpit. My hand starts bubbling blood, I have a gaping wound, and there is blood everywhere. They sent me home, and the next day I couldn’t grip anything with my left hand. I had touched a nerve and was out of commission for a week.

WRG: So moral of the story, don’t open up oysters angry?

No, don’t open them when you’re angry. Open them when you’re drunk but definitely not when you’re angry.

MaxRuiz-2

WRG: So, the big question is, are they really an aphrodisiac?

Oysters have a lot of zinc, so in three ounces of oyster meat, there’s seven hundred times your daily zinc intake. Zinc helps produce testosterone, and testosterone is linked to your sexual drive. But arguably that means that it helps men. Will you get seven times your daily zinc intake and turn that into testosterone, and then get super horny by the time you’ve got home with your date? And do you really want to give her more testosterone? Really you should eat a load of oysters, go home with your wife, and then sneak out at 5am and go to Unity to party with a bunch of gay men. Then you’ll really have a good time. Come to think of it, they should really do buck-a-shucks at Unity. The oysters, the zinc, the testosterone…that shit would really explode.

WRG: Totally. I’m there. But still, oysters are more associated with women, aren’t they?

Yes, to be sure it’s a sexy food. It all goes hand in hand with the experience. It’s oysters and champagne and vodka, decadence, boats…They’re expensive. They’re a luxury item, so pretty much money is the real aphrodisiac, not oysters. That is the truth above all, money is what gets people going, not zinc. Other than that, you’re eating something sort of wet and slippery…

WRG: Thanks Max, I think we get the picture.

+ share
 Prev: WRG’s Art of Plating Next: Cochon 555: Pig Porn with Huge Galdones