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Pro-Tips from the Road

I never expected a meeting with a chef to depend on the availability of a flat-head screwdriver. Yet, there I was in a glimmering jewel-box of a dining room in downtown Miami, rolling up my sleeves and asking the GM for a screwdriver, my palm outstretched like a surgeon asking for a scalpel.

In oyster sales, there is one thing you never forget to bring with you to a meeting, and that is your shucking knife. Just ask the crew around the office – the sales team is always armed with a shucker. In our pen-cups, in our purses, glove boxes and kitchen cabinets – we always have a shucking knife. One difficult thing about selling oysters is that you are ultimately selling experience and sensation. The chef has to physically shuck open and taste the product that you are selling. Your presence, reassurance, and expertise as a sales person are really just the icing on the cake.

So, you can see how vulnerable I felt when I stood in that dining room in downtown Miami, about to meet with the team of a high-end restaurant… Knifeless.

On Skip’s farm crew, we would sometimes shuck oysters for a snack with the flathead screw drivers we kept on hand to knock off barnacles and limpets. I stared down at my hands – screwdriver in one, a pristine and patient Island Creek in the other – and inserted the dull blade of the screwdriver into the oyster’s hinge, acting like I’d done this a million times before. It’s totally cool guys, I got this. The construction crew, the owner, general manager and sous chef crowded around me as I prayed to Poseidon that this lapse in judgment wouldn’t end with me in the hospital and blood splattered all over their unsealed Italian marble bar top.

Yet, despite the audience and trembling hands, the oysters popped open with little fuss. Or blood. Thank god. The sous chef, owner, general manager, and construction crew remarked at how wonderful the Island Creeks tasted and how they couldn’t wait to get them on their opening menu. All experience and sensation. I cannot deny, as a saleswoman myself, that good oysters make the ultimate salesmen of themselves.

Take aways: In emergency situations, you can use a screwdriver to open an oyster. And always have your shucking knife.

★ Michelle Wong enjoys long walks on the beach, reruns of Friends and Michael Bay movies on TNT.★