CellarVie Wines meets…Oyster Meister

It is often said that finding oysters in England can be like diving for pearls, but this is one of the many misconceptions that Oyster Meister - a high-quality, wandering oyster shop and a fresh alternative to canapés - is keen to address.

“Often the first question put to me ‘is how often do you find a pearl?’” Oyster Meister’s CEO, James Bowles, told CellarVie Wines, “and the long answer is ‘never’ as pearls are not in edible oysters. So if you find a pearl you shouldn’t be eating the oyster due to their inedible variants.”

After all, Oyster Meister is far more than just a kitsch alternative to the increasingly tired and formulaic finger food industry.

“We try to add a bit of theatre to proceedings but we also endeavour to educate people.” Bowles said. “We don’t just serve people oysters. There is nothing worse than having people walking around with a tray of canapés. It’s incredibly mundane. If I see another tray of puff pastries I’ll top myself!

“What we try to do is work the entire room; there is a real wow factor. Oyster Meister brings added entertainment and excitement to the atmosphere of an event because few people have seen anything like it before.”

From Casanova to Napoleon via sex parties in Amsterdam

Prior to the business of free-standing oyster shucking these mysterious bivalves enjoyed a rich and varied history since the Romans first brought them to our shores. Initially they were the gastronomic delight of the ruling classes and were famously feasted on by Napoleon during his bloody war with Prussia in the early 1800s.

“Even when he was fighting on the Prussian front every day and from the same little port in France, he would have a horse and cart lugging a large block of ice hollowed out and carrying a couple of baskets of oysters. It would take 12 or 13 days to get across Europe. They will last that long.”

Oysters were later eaten in abundance as the principal diet of paupers during the reign of Queen Victoria. “They were often used for making up the weight in pies, as beef and veal was more valuable,” according to Bowles, who spent five years working as a PA to the Formula One driver Eddie Irvine.

They have since re-emerged as the pinnacle of modern gourmet dining, but one thing remains undeniable; the association between oysters and sex is so hackneyed it is rare one is mentioned without the other. The legendary Casanova was said to have devoured as many as 50 oysters a day in an effort to sustain his insatiable sexual appetite.

“He was famed for eating them between the breasts of these beautiful buxom Venetian women.” Bowles said. “Five oysters a day gives you all your daily requirements; your protein, minerals, all your vitamins and metals. They are very high in phosphate and they are incredibly high in zinc, which is why they are an aphrodisiac.”

If the perpetual association between oysters and sex is a cliché it’s not lost on Oyster Meister’s CEO, since his business of the wandering oyster shop was conceived (not literally we might add) in the underbelly of Amsterdam's red light district.
“Andy, the gentleman who started the mobile oyster shucker initially did this exclusively at sex parties in the underground S&M scene in Amsterdam.” Bowles explains. “Obviously people would go to these things, bang away for ten minutes - I mean an hour - and they would then stop for a glass of champagne and half a dozen oysters, before carrying on again! He was doing that for over seven years before someone actually poached him to provide oysters in a more traditional environment.”

‘They are now as good as they’ve been for many a year’

For a nation reared on fish-and-chips and increasingly ambivalent to oysters thanks to a spate of negative press, you could be forgiven for thinking Oyster Meister faced a difficult challenge when the venture began in 2010. In 2011 a study by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) allegedly discovered that 76 percent of British-grown oysters contain the vomiting bug, norovirus, yet to those within the industry this has merely served to fuel a now common misnomer.

“To be honest this was a load of guff,” The affable Bowles enthused, “First of all, the nickname for norovirus is actually ‘winter vomiting disease’, so what that had to do with oysters goodness only knows, but for some reason there was this article and everyone picked up on it.”

Instead he believes the modern purification process whereby oysters lie in a tank for a period of 42 hours, filtering the best part of 100 gallons of UV purified fresh sea water, kills or neutralises any bacteria and viruses in the oyster. Additionally, because there is no food in the tank, it also has the second benefit of actually clearing the gastric tract and any waste product with it. Oyster Meister is not only thriving because of their unique appreciation of the occasion, but more pertinently because there is now greater quality control in the oyster industry.

“Nowadays these oysters are all bar-coded and back-tracked so you are able to trace the full history on them. The farming and the filtration process is now so sophisticated and so heavily monitored that they are now as good as they’ve been for many a year. It’s virtually impossible to farm oysters irresponsibly.”

Oyster Meister’s client list reads like a who’s who of high society, boasting the chef Tom Aitken, the Saatchi Gallery and Sir Terence Conran, whilst he has also rubbed shoulders with a host of A-List luminaries from former England captain Andrew Strauss to James Bond himself, Sir Roger Moore. In addition to the regular private functions like weddings and dinner parties, the Oyster Meister is a perpetual presence at Wimbledon, Lords, the British Grand Prix and of course the Olympics in 2012.

The thriving nature of Bowles’ unique business intimates that these pearly molluscs with a three chambered heart are experiencing something of a renaissance. It certainly helps that the oyster comes in cheaper per unit than a canapé once the cost of making them is factored in, and certainly Bowles’ 92% recall rate is a testament to Oyster Meister’s je ne sais quoi.

‘The only thing oysters don’t really go with is spirits’

Armed with a plethora of freshly sourced oysters, a troupe of shuckers and an array of dressings as varied as shallot vinaigrette, fresh lemon juice, red and green tabasco, horseradish and a Bloody Mary mix, Bowles believes Oyster Meister is the perfect accompaniment to a corporate or private event. But what is the perfect addition to ‘nature’s opulence’?

“A nice crisp Chablis is a harmonious and relevant partner because vines from the region are sometimes grown in a bed of fossilised oyster shells, while a palate cleansing Champagne will certainly add some romance should the occasion require. Strangely enough one of the nicest drinks to have with oysters is a pale sherry, although a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc is also ideal. The only thing oysters don’t really go with is spirits.”

Regardless of your tipple, Oyster Meister promises to bring a uniquely sophisticated edge to this ancient and seductive briny mollusc, creating an ambiance and experience befitting the event. Casanova and Napoleon would inevitably approve.

To learn more about Oyster Meister visit www.oystermeister.com or bookings call 0208 747 8981

Article first appeared in Under the Skin Magazine, Summer Edition 2014. CellarVie Wines' quarterly print publication accompanies all orders on www.cellarviewines.com 


Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 


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