23 September 2022

Aw shucks, oyster grower Jim Yiannaros is off to take on the world

| Zoe Cartwright
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Jim Yiannaros

Champion oyster shucker Jim Yiannaros at the Narooma Oyster Festival 2022. Photo: Narooma Oyster Festival.

Professional athletes train for years, but that’s nothing compared to the time it takes to become a competitive oyster shucker.

Luckily Batemans Bay’s Jim Yiannaros has almost 50 years of experience under his belt.

Australia’s champion oyster shucker shucked his first oyster aged four or five, when his dad, Kosta Yiannaros, moved his family to the Clyde River to start farming oysters.

By 2017 he had won the Narooma Oyster Festival shucking competition three years in a row, and considered retiring from competition.

Fortunately he changed his mind, and now he is headed to the hallowed ground of Galway, Ireland, to take on the world’s best.

The South Coast farmer is preparing to compete in the world’s most prestigious oyster shucking competition, the World Oyster Opening Championships on 24 September.

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The invitational event is highly competitive, with Mr Yiannaros’ entry following another win at the 2022 Narooma Oyster Festival in May, where he shucked 30 rock oysters in just two minutes and 39 seconds to beat a field of Australia’s best.

It’s believed he will be the first Australian to compete in the event in almost 30 years, and he will join a field of champions hailing from the United Kingdom and Europe.

Like Narooma’s competition, it’s part of a famous festival with celebrations and feasts happening around the main event.

Among them will be Irish champion Stephen Nolan, who parachuted into Narooma for the festival this year and went head to head with Mr Yiannaros and women’s champion Sally McLean (Jim Wild’s Oysters, Shoalhaven) in a friendly rock oyster shuck-off.

Oyster shucking

Chef Colin Fassnidge counts them down as John Yiannaros, Jim Yiannaros and John Susman go head to head at the Narooma Oyster Festival in 2022. Photo: Supplied.

While Mr Yiannaros was convincingly faster than Nolan and McLean, the tides could turn when he is faced with a different species, the Galway Flat.

He has been practising on Australia’s own native flat oyster, the angasi which he has been sourcing from Pip and Dom Boyton at Merimbula Gourmet Oysters.

The Boytons have won multiple awards for their oysters and are one of the few angasi growers in Australia.

“There’s only a couple of genes that separate our angasi oysters from the Galway Flat so they are very similar,” Mr Yiannaros said.

“The ones I have been practising on have a really hard shell, which is great, so I’m hoping that when I get there the Galway Flats will be easier to open and we can bring home the goods.”

He has bought a new knife and shaped the blade himself, making it suitable for the longer, flatter oyster he’ll be dealing with in Galway.

“The knife I race with at Narooma doesn’t need a long blade, the rock oyster has a deeper and thicker shell so it really needs to be leveraged open at the hinge,” Mr Yiannaros said.

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“I have two techniques that I am comfortable with so when I get there I’ll get to a bench and will be able to refine the technique even further.”

Mr Yiannaros isn’t the first South Coast oyster shucker to take to the world stage, however.

Jim Wild of Greenwell Point, Shoalhaven is a shucking star both in Galway and Australia, a veteran world champion shucker who won in 1984 and placed third in his last event in 1993.

The two Jims caught up at Greenwell Point last week, with the older passing on valuable tips to the younger.

Speed is critical in competitive shucking, but so is presentation. Oysters must be clean and free of grit, neatly placed on the shell and the adductor muscle cut.

Mr Wild was full of praise for Mr Yiannaros.

“Jim is in great form and has a really good chance,” Mr Wild said. “He’s fast and he is particular, and I think he’ll find those oysters are easier to open than the angasi he has been practising on.”

Mr Yiannaros thanked the Narooma Rocks team who deliver the Narooma Oyster Festival each year, and Eurobodalla Shire Council for their support for the trip.

“Oyster farmers have been through a lot over the last 15 years, and the last two years especially have been devastating,” he said.

“To see events like the Narooma Oyster Festival going from strength to strength and helping to get Australian oysters on the world stage is some good news for everyone.”

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