- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

CHANCE, Md. (AP) - Among the oil cans, ailing rusty diesel engines and one beast of an air compressor in the workshop at Scott’s Cove Marina, mechanic Eldon “Chef Emeril” Willing creates culinary magic.

It is “arster day” at the marina that Willing and his uncle, Jack, own and operate.

Perhaps once a week, the two host a free, spontaneous luncheon for watermen and workers gathered at the marina. The recent menu featured single-fried oysters and Smith Island cake. He didn’t make the cake, but the oysters, those perfectly fried, light, crispy, crunchy, brown oysters, are making his impromptu tour de force soirées legendary.

Just hours before, in another room, Willing wore thick, black, shiny rubber gloves to shuck 3 pints of rough, dark-gray oysters, their shells covered with spats and barnacles. They are the Chesapeake Bay’s version of chicken eggs, putty-colored bivalve yolks nestled in thick, crusty shells.

“These oysters came right out of the (Tangier) Sound this morning, as fresh as you can get,” he said.

“My dad gave me a shucking lesson when I was 15. When I was in high school, I was bringing a couple of my teachers oysters. It was taking a lot of oysters to keep my grades up, and he said if I was going to give them all those oysters, I would have to learn how to shuck them,” he said, laughing.

Willing sampled one of the raw oysters. After prying the shell open, he lightly scraped the underside of the shells to release the meaty oyster with his knife and pulled the limp bivalve at knife point from its shell citadel.

Tilting his head back, Willing raised the living, dripping, shapeless oyster just above his anxious lips and, with an ever-so-polite slurp, whisked the delicacy over his eager tongue. It slipped smoothly down the hatch, as it were, like the devil in silk pajamas.

Jonathan Swift had it right, when, in 1738 he wrote, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.”

Willing’s eyes became brighter, his smile broader, and his face said “divine satisfaction,” all, no doubt, the first reactions to the power of the salty-sweet aphrodisiac of the bay.

“I don’t have any volunteers for shuckin’,” he said. “Plenty of volunteers for eatin’.”

Willing’s fried oysters-to-come are the culinary pearls in these shells.

“This is somethin’ Uncle Jack (Willing) and I started doin’ the first of the ‘arster’ season,” Willing explained. “It was something for us to do. I have been cooking oysters for my church for years, so I know my way around a kitchen. We had both fried rockfish and oysters here in one week. We know how to do things up right own here.”

“I’m here to tell ya, that rock he fixed was good, too,” said workman Bobby Bradshaw. “This is one of the fringe benefits of being local, gettin’ this good food.”

“These are as good as you can git,” Jack said with a nod, pointing to a basket of wet shells. “We have them give to us.”

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