By Lina Tran
Oysters have long held a sexual fascination. Legendary womanizer Casanova, who praised their aphrodisiacal properties, is said to have feasted on fifty oysters – on the half shell, of course – every morning in a bathtub artfully constructed for two. His Histoire de ma vie (Story of My Life) describes an oyster orgy in which the libertine author drops unsuspecting bivalves down his maidens’ bodices, only to dutifully recover them with his mouth. How responsible Casanova’s legacy is remains unsure, but the oyster is widely recognized as top aphrodisiac, and a pinnacle of gastronomic pleasure. Beloved to New Orleans gourmands especially, the oyster industry is one entrenched in tradition; the mostly male shuckers of the city have held their posts for decades. This was the case until New Orleanian women, Becky Wasden and Stefani Sell, began offering their services as a traveling oyster bar.
Neither Wasden nor Sell had ever shucked an oyster before coming to New Orleans. Wasden, who moved from Utah in 2002, met Sell on a karaoke night at a straight bar while traveling – a seemingly inauspicious start to their relationship. Yet, shortly after meeting in 2012, Sell joined Wasden in New Orleans, where the couple has been together ever since. Within two weeks of Sell’s arrival, the two found themselves at a backyard party, where their hosts boasted of a sack of oysters and grand plans to chargrill them with sriracha and garlic. Night fell, drunkenness rose; yet the oysters remained unshucked. Not about to miss out on fresh Gulf oysters, Sell asked why they hadn’t started shucking.
The men, too hammered to wield oyster knives, said, “If you want ‘em, you’ll have to shuck ‘em yourself.” Armed with a menacing chainmail glove, 4” oyster knife, and small tea light candle, Sell took to prying the oysters open naturally. For this, she credits a childhood spent hunting and cleaning game in Oregon with her father.
Sell later taught Wasden how to shuck; by then, the couple had a solid party trick, visiting friends with a sack of oysters in tow. A party trick it remained until November 2013, when a man came up to the two lady shuckers and told them it was “sexy”.
“At the time I was like, ‘Gross, no it’s not!’” Wasden said. “But he said, ‘Really, where’s your tip jar? I’ve never seen two girls making a mess, having a great time shucking oysters before.’” Nodding at their sack of oysters, Wasden joked the scene was “Two Girls One Sack.” The group of friends roared appreciatively, but it was the next iteration that would really stick: Two Girls One Shuck. A year later, in September 2014, Wasden and Sell registered their business at City Hall.
Readers may recall the unspeakable horror of the sensational porn video “Two Girls One Cup,” which achieved viral Internet status in 2007. The video, which depicts the intersection of two girls, one cup, and an unfortunate plenitude of bodily excretions, is immensely graphic—and continues to live in infamy. Many clients of Two Girls One Shuck recognize the trademark’s licentious origins, but nevertheless do not hesitate to hire the pair. Normally, clients find it entertaining.
Wasden tells them, “It’s a dirty job.” “And we love to do it,” finishes Sell.
Partners in business and partners in life, the Two Girls team occupies a unique place in New Orleans’ otherwise male-dominated oyster industry. The work requires hauling heavy sacks of oysters and ice, and the constant cold is hard on the hands. The mollusk’s shell is sharp, and even sharper is the knife used to pry it open. Muddy seawater inevitably bespatters the shucker. Perhaps another deterrent for women interested in entering the field professionally are low hourly wages, a factor Wasden and Sell have circumvented by forming their own business.
“The truth is that oyster shucking is a technique that uses leverage on the oyster against itself,” Sell said. “But the myth lingers that this takes a great deal of upper body strength, so women stay clear.” Wasden and Sell say they have received only warm support from the city’s male shuckers and oyster suppliers. When asked if they’ve encountered sexism or homophobia in their field of work, both say no. Wasden says that early on, however, a prospective client asked if they would shuck in bikinis. She shut the idea down, citing professionalism and safety reasons.
“My woman’s mind had never gone to that place – strippers with oysters! We could make so much more money if we took things to different levels,” she said with a laugh. Wasden and Sell’s business is a playful one, with a goal to create friendly social spaces for enjoying oysters. They may toy with sexual intrigue (their subhead, after all, is “Let us bring the bodacious bivalve to your shindig or soiree!”), but as far as the shucking goes, it’s serious.
It should come as no surprise that a traveling oyster bar run by two women sparks the sexual imagination. Ignore for a moment their provocative name, and there’s still the curious nature of oysters – alluring, hermaphroditic. Their high zinc content is closely linked to blood flow and testosterone metabolism, both critical factors of sex drive. Sharp, craggy shells belie what is the most sex-fluid organism in the sea (oysters can alternate sex throughout their lives at will). The fresh-faced business Two Girls One Shuck echoes this complexity. Oyster shucking, akin to bartending, demands customer rapport and yields a lush product, all while demanding hours of gritty, visceral labor. Wasden, who runs the business full time, dreams of satellite locations, nationwide expansion, and oyster-shucking workshops.
“People tell me they always wanted to learn to shuck,” she said. “And I tell them ‘You can!’” Anyone can shuck, and perhaps no one is better suited to say this than the two women who have reconfigured the identity of the New Orleans oyster shucker.