Oysters can make you look pretty fucking cool.
I am sitting at Willoughby’s at the V&A Waterfront, arguably the finest sushi purveyor in Cape Town. It has the horrible fate of being in the thoroughfare of the busy mall but since I no longer smoke cigarettes – and therefore do not have to dart off to the exits between sips of wine – it is a handicap I am prepared to accept, so good is the food.
I am dressed to thrill, my outfit some lazy dalliance between agent provocateur, vampire chic and foody hipster. On the table beside me is a book on brain chemistry and a note pad, where I occasionally capture fleeting thoughts. In my hand is a glass of chilled, dry white wine.
I have been served oysters, Mississippi style, deep fried and then baked with a gratin of garlic herbs and breadcrumbs. The oysters are distended, almost poached, still creamy but losing all memory of ocean essence beneath a carpet of invading crumbs, lemon juice and Tabasco sauce. No, no, no, no, no!
The oyster is the pearlescent soul of the seven seas, salty waves and sexy ocean mucus captured for a moment of time in a suit of crusty armour! In the immortal words of Anthony Bourdain after tasting his first oyster as a child in France;
‘This I knew was the magic that I had until now only been dimly and spitefully aware. I had learned something. Viscerally, instinctually, spiritually – in some small, precursive way, sexually – and there was no turning back. The Genie was out of the bottle, my life as a chef had begun’.
I had enjoyed oysters, a dozen times or so. At first they taste like snot and salt but eventually you get into the whole coolness of it and hang around at parties getting nose rushes from the lemon and Tabasco. Some people are completely altered by them, but I clearly did not fully understand.
Which was why, upon reading Mr Bourdain’s book, I decided that I would have to rewire my brain to transform the rubber sex doll of my oyster romance so far – into the extraordinary sensuous Mexican tango of the experience it would eventually become. I began to eat them, whenever I could.
It took a while but eventually I started to get it. It took me to far off places like Elands Bay and culinary Mecca’s like our local Nobu. Even my lover, a die hard vegetarian, eventually agreed to eat them. After weeks of subtle manipulation on my part I had succeeded in convincing her that, in principle, Oysters are not really animals. They are not even plants; they are moments, suspended in time.
While visiting the amazing Biscuit Mill market two weeks ago, I was walking through the stands, salivating at the food and seeking some form of breakfast when, to my delight, I saw a bucket of oysters so fresh that my legs felt wet from the sea spray – I had to have them. That was the deal I had stuck with myself. They were also serving beautiful champagne.
I sat down at a crowded table, pushing my way in through plates of muesli and yoghurt and fruit to lay my glass of champagne and 12 icy west coast oysters in front of me. First thing in the morning, the body, flavour and sophistication of the oysters was almost overwhelming.
I recoiled at the intense creaminess. The table seemed to be waiting, the entire hall suspended as though I too were a moment in time, in oyster consciousness. You don’t just casually sit down at a table of Gucci Kaftan wearing Zippies with champagne and oysters and then think you can get away with not finishing them.
My sunglasses were a movie screen between me and the crowd as I began to eat. Something in my brain changed and I knew that not only were the flirtations of my budding romance becoming a little saucier, but that oysters can make you look pretty fucking cool under the right circumstances.