Austin Oyster Festival celebrates Texas seafood

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Photo Credit: Audrey McNay | Daily Texan Staff

Boats and trucks full of oysters are taking a trip to Austin this week for a massive celebration of seafood at the Austin Oyster Festival.

The festival, which is produced by 787 Productions in conjunction with the HOPE Farmers Market, is a celebration of the oyster and similar seafoods that will benefit the capitol-area food bank. The five year celebration of the festival will take place on Feb. 25 and feature a wide range of seafood, music, drinks, raffles and goods.

“We treat it like a big, old 2,000 person wedding,” said Chris Bauer, executive chef and co-organizer. “We are going to wine them and dine them, everything is going to be fresh and it is going to be a special day to remember.”

The festival aims to celebrate the glory of the oyster in all of its forms— from raw on the half shell to oysters rockefeller.

“It really is about the oyster,“ said Emily Horvath of 787 productions and co-organizer of the festival. “So, if someone is not an oyster fan or doesn’t know if they are an oyster fan, it may not be the time for them to determine that because there is not a lot of food that doesn’t have oyster or shellfish in some way in it.”

Though raw oysters are the stars of the show, they’re not the only seafood that guests can look forward to. He said things like Deep Eddy’s orange marinated grilled and chilled shrimp, and grilled items like smoked bacon oysters, rockefeller and garlic, anchovies butter grilled oyster will also be offered.

“We kind of graduated into a multifaceted food festival,” Bauer said. “We continually try to add a piece here and there.”

Bauer said, after an ice storm in 2015 left icicles hanging from the tents, festival goers were inspired by the cold snap to continue expanding the reach and scope of the festival.

“That was kind of when we thought it was something special— when even through this ice storm, with all the highways shut down, everyone (still) showed up,” Bauer said. “The oysters were ice cold and perfect. It was so cold outside that everything was perfectly chilled.”

Preparations for the festival will begin this Thursday. There will be 48 hours of intense work as seafood is brought in from the coast and fresh marinades are made.

“We are going to send our boats to harvest the oysters out of Galveston Bay,” said Mark Lewis of Jeri’s Seafood, the main oyster sponsor for the festival. “We will then grade the oysters, clean the oysters, bag the oystesr in 100 count sacks. We will have a half dozen of our crew that works at the oyster plant on staff at the festival to help open the oysters.”

Bauer said making an event like Austin Oyster Festival happen is a fulfilling challenge from beginning to end. 

“There is a reason why they sell corndogs and funnel cakes at festivals— because it is easy,” Bauer said. “So to be able to take an incredibly perishable product like shrimp and oysters and take it out to a festival and manage it and serve it where it tastes incredibly good and fresh and away from its natural habitat is hard. We take a lot of pride in that we are pulling it off and doing it at a very high level.”

Horvath said that she especially enjoys the uniqueness of the Austin Oyster Festival.

“To me, Austin is a town that really thrives on the unique experience,” Horvath said. “There is so many neat things to do here that you don’t necessarily find in other cities and I think this is just another example of that.”