Opening more than 1,000 oysters a day in Madrid's San Miguel food hall has given Nabil Rezzouki a real knack for this art, which is not as easy as it looks. The Moroccan oyster-opener, who runs the Sorlut champagne-and-oyster stand, took first place in the VI Spanish Oyster-Opening Championship, which was recently held at the 27th yearly Salón de Gourmets gastronomy fair. In just five minutes and 14 seconds, he managed to perfectly detach the body of the mollusk from the shell a total of 36 times.
Rezzouki, who also won the competition in 2010, proved unbeatable against the other professionals who came up against him in the national competition. In the three-sided knife fight against reigning world champion Xabier Caille of France and Dick Pieter Arkenbout of Holland, he also managed to beat the records of his rivals.
But speed alone is not the key to the enjoyment of the oyster, according to the members of the jury, the restaurateurs Sacha Hormaechea and Ramón Ramírez and the food journalists Ana Lorente, Luis Cepeda and Óscar Caballero. "Consumers in Spain appreciate quality more than speed, and prefer the écailleur [oyster-opener] to take his time preparing the oyster they will eat," says Lorente. Hormaechea compared the art of shucking an oyster with that of shaving off fine slices of Iberian cured ham, and highlighted the training of the new generation of écailleurs as an incentive for bars and restaurants to offer the high-priced mollusk.
Apart from Rezzouki, the national championship featured experienced professionals such as Miguel Garrido (of Madrid's O'Pazo), winner in 2011 and 2012, who took second place. In third place came Luis Miguel Rodríguez (of the Marisquería Torrevieja), followed by José Miguel Valera (Grupo Oter, Madrid), Manuel Hoctin (Donostra, Barcelona), and Jessica Marín (Serpeska, Madrid). The latter, a young woman who works in the revamped Mercado de San Antón in Chueca, was in the running for the first time in an oyster-opening race, where female competitors are rare. Oddly enough, Marín is not particularly fond of oysters: "I like serving them, and watching people enjoy them."
Rezzouki, who was born in Casablanca 33 years ago, has worked for Grupo Sorlut, the sponsor and supplier of oysters for the Spanish contest, since 2009.
Besides receiving a 1,500-euro check for his win, and a trophy in the form of an oyster knife, Nabil promises a cracking performance at the world oyster-opening championship, to be held in Galway, Ireland, in October.