Michael Corssen called it - the night of the Sponsor's Reception at the Doubleday Babcock Senior Center on Thursday, Oct. 15. "The weather's going to be great. It's not going to rain until Sunday evening." At 6:35 it was raining in Smithtown and Sea Cliff - but not Oyster Bay. Here, there was just a fine misting at about 7 p.m.
Good weather for October and cool enough to make it perfect for strolling the avenue ¬ at the Oyster Festival.
The misting began as the committee was waiting for Deborah Minicozzi to come down and claim her car raffle prize - a Dodge Durango 2000 or $20,000 in cash.
As the last minutes of the 16th Oyster Festival wound down, Chair Karen DeVine-Minicozzi and Co-chair Scott Davis took turns announcing the sale of the raffle tickets. Oyster Bay Historical Society Director Tom Kuehhas, raffle chair; Kathy Wilson, executive director of the Oyster Festival and her husband Monte were all selling the tickets in the tent on the corner of Townsend Park.
There was a countdown with the audience, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!
They brought over the drum with the tickets inside. Scott turned the handle several times to get a good mix, and Karen held her daughter Sarah Rose Minicozzi up so she could put her hand in and pull out the winning ticket.
Karen read off the name on the ticket Sarah held and announced, "The winner is Deborah Minicozzi. I swear it's not fixed!" Deborah is Sarah Rose's paternal grandmother.
Karen used her cell phone to call her and around 7 p.m. she came down with her half of the raffle ticket.
"It's an Oyster Bay person for the first time in years!" said Kathy Wilson.
Deborah said she was just getting home from her job in Sea Cliff when her husband John said, "Talk to Dacia (her daughter)."
"What is it," she asked.
"Good news," he said.
"I won the truck?" she asked.
"Just you talk to her."
She said, "Before I got in the house, Dacia came out saying 'You won it!"
"I don't know if I want the truck or the money," said Deborah. How does she feel? "Twenty-thousand richer."
Scott Davis showed her the car. She had until Tuesday to decide on the car or the money. "If you want to upgrade the Dodge Durango 2000 you get the options at the dealer cost," said Scott. "If it cost me $250, that's your price."
The car as it sat there was valued at $31,000. The winner has to pay the sales taxes on the car.
Deborah is a very happy Minicozzi. There are three Minicozzi families in Oyster Bay, said Lynne Minicozzi, and none of them are related.
The Oyster Festival was created to celebrate the oyster. The Oyster Eating and Shucking Contests were created to highlight the two major characteristics of the mollusk: they are hard to open and wonderful to eat. They taste naturally sweet.
"This year we had some really fine oysters," said Dave Relyea, spokesperson for Frank M. Flower & Sons, Inc. and one of the three owners of the Oyster Bay company that has its hatchery in Bayville.
"It's been a particularly good growing season for oysters and clams. There were nice plump oysters for the festival. We supplied all the oysters this year," said Dave Relyea remembering that last year, when the NYS DEC and DOH closed the Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor Bay for six weeks. The DEC stopped shellfishing due to a bacteria, that for the first time caused a problem in the northeast.
The bacteria, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, was never identified in samples of local shellfish.
Flower's brought in the oysters from Connecticut for the 15th Oyster Festival.
This year they supplied between 30,000 and 40,000 oysters to be prepared by the non-profits. That means one boat load. "We know where to go. We planted them there," he said. The oysters are bred and grown at the hatchery and moved to rafts in Mill Neck Creek until they are big enough to plant in their leased acreage in Oyster Bay Harbor.
The contests are real people pleasers. The parking lot behind town hall was packed with watchers for the duration of the contests. As soon as they are over - the lot empties quickly. To warm up the audience, Bob Buckman of WBAB asked a question. "What is Elton John's real name?" "It's Elton James," called out Dave Carlson of Wading River. He won two tickets to hear Elton John at Madison Square Garden.
Legislator John Canning called him up to the showmobile, congratulating him on winning. Dave said he had even better news, "She's going to marry me! Christine Fitch said yes!" John said, "That's a first." (Actually it has happened before - most recently at a Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor's 5-K Run.) But the crowd loved it.
The first contest was the oyster shucking.
Legislator John Canning narrated the battle. "Patrick Dennis is doing an amazing job," he said. "Mike Marano and he were slugging it out." He mentioned that the ladies made a good showing this year with two entrants in the shucking contest and five in the Oyster Eating Contest.
When Dave Relyea, contest judge walked down the line, and counted the oysters: they had to be cut from the shell, ready to be served, the winner was Patrick Dennis with 29 oysters shucked.
Patrick Dennis of Bay Shore shucked 29 oysters. He learned at the age of 17 at the South Street Seaport.
Mike Marano of Lake Ronkonkoma shucked 28 oysters. He owns Marano Seafood Restaurant.
Tom McLaughlin of Bayside shucked 18 oysters.
Verna Spense of Milford, New Jersey shucked 17 oysters.
Heather Parsons of Oyster Bay shucked 16 oysters.
Mike Them of Oyster Bay, a 15-year old 10th grader at OBHS, shucked 16 oysters. "A good showing for a young guy," said Contest Judge Dave Relyea.
Randal Steiner of Farmingdale shucked 11 oysters - a regular in the contest, this was his personal best. His previous record was six.
Albert Takhalev of Queens shucked nine oysters.
Tony Baraev of Queens shucked no oysters. "He didn't cut any oysters free, which is a criteria of the contest. He did open about eight to 10," said Dave Relyea.
John Canning was in his element talking about the Oyster Eating Contest: "David Leonard was a troublemaker last year. He consumed so many, so fast, the Frank M. Flower company ran out of oysters," he said. They ended the contest after 2:05 minutes instead of 2:40. Mr. Leonard ate 480 oysters.
Mr. Canning explained the number of oysters waiting to be consumed. "There are 12 oysters in (each of four) cups. These guys polish them off like nothing.
"It gets worse. The pie tins in front of them contain 36 oysters."
Janet Innis of Stony Brook said she was in the contest because "I couldn't afford to buy them."
The oysters were selling at $5 for five at the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce booth.
The eaters had a choice of using cocktail sauce and lemon. "Some decorated their oysters and some went au natural," said John.
When the eating began, Dave Relyea and the other helpers were kept busy bringing more cups to Dave Leonard - again- and Michael Chodkowski.
Susan Wolf was putting the oysters into her mouth using both hands.
The countdown took place - followed by applause.
Dave Relyea, oyster eating judge walked down the line, checking each space to see just how many oysters each contestant consumed.
When they finished, Ms. Innis said, "They were really yummy." She called them "an afternoon snack."
Jonathan Preece of Shirley called the oysters "tasty." He ate 26. John Canning asked him why he was in the contest. "Hunger. I'm a college student and this is a free meal," said the 20-year-old.
Billy Jo said she was "full." She consumed 38 oysters. What inspired her to join the contest? "I love to eat oysters." She is originally from Idaho. She has an internship with the Developmental Disabilities Institute in Smithtown. She is a psychologist.
What does she think of the oyster eating contest?
"Just a good old time."
Michael Chodkowski said he was still hungry, after eating 252 oysters. He said his wife was at home and would be happy to hear he won. And, she'd be happy to get his winning check.
David Leonard, who came in second this year, is in the middle of moving to Arizona. He's been there for the past three months said his wife Karen. They are having a house built there. Mr. Leonard owns a restaurant, "Little Bit of Italy," in East Islip.
He was being interviewed by Chris Figueiredo of New Jersey for Over the Edge a TV show expected to be on in the late spring.
"Last year I was the record holder at 480 - they were half the size of this year's oysters," he said. This year he ate 240.
The oyster eaters were:
Michael Chodkowski of Hicksville ate 252.
David E. Leonard of Central Islip ate 240.
Jamie Marcus of Westchester ate 96.
Dan Butler of Port Jefferson downed 60.
Susan Wolf of West Hempstead ate 53.
Fred Thompson of Queens downed 51.
Sonia MacFeth of Bellport downed 48.
Michael Harrington of Glenwood Landing downed 42.
Billy Jo Davis of Setauket ate 38.
Rhoda Fishkin of Plainview ate 31.
Jonathan Preece of Shirley ate 26.
Janet Innis of Stony Brook ate 15.
See you next year - same Saturday in October, the weekend after Columbus Day.