Shuckingly good seafood
Picture: Iain Gillespie

Dan Sharp is not only a man in a hurry but a man on a mission. At the age of 25, he has his own catering business - Sharp Infusion Fine Catering - and is an accomplished demonstration chef, having shared the stage with such culinary luminaries as Don Hancey, Peter Kuruvita, Anna Gare and Poh Ling Yeow. He is also the motivating force behind the Taste Great Southern Oyster Festival. His mission? Fresh local produce.

Sharp is Albany born and bred, and it was his father, a local fisherman, who introduced him to his consuming passion - seafood.

"Dad was always bringing home the crabs that had died, or the extra fish that he couldn't sell, or something new and exciting that he had caught, so I developed this love for seafood, which Albany certainly has a lot of," he said.

So it is not surprising that at 16 Sharp started to train as a chef, going first to Coco's in South Perth and then the rarefied culinary atmosphere of Wild Duck (Albany) for the final two years of his apprenticeship.

While Sharp is certainly making a name for himself in the field of fine food, one of the things anchoring him to Albany is the region's "priceless, world-class" produce.

"I guess seafood is my speciality with things like crystal crab, southern rock lobster, as well as fish like King George whiting, marron and so on," he said.

"There are also things like asparagus - there's a huge season down here - every type of berry you can think of. There is a gorgeous orchard down here that grows around 10 to 15 varieties of peaches, and nectarines, plums and apricots. The flavours are just amazing. There's goat's cheese, sheep cheese, people who do marron, yabbies. We grow beef, lamb, venison, rabbit, some of the best pork from Plantagenet Pork, Mt Barker free-range chicken, and one of my absolute favourites which is unique to the region, the Albany rock oyster."

The original stock for the Albany oyster farms came from a bay north of Sydney, where the Sydney rock oyster is harvested. According to Sharp, they have evolved into quite a different oyster because of the different growing conditions. Oysterphiles think very highly of the Albany rock oyster with their rich, creamy taste, a slight flavour of iodine and a more minerally finish than many oysters. These delectable molluscs will form the centrepiece of the Albany Oyster Festival, which is part of the IGA Taste Great Southern.

"It's going to be an extraordinary event," Sharp said. "There are plenty of great gourmet food stalls selling local produce."

There are a number of wineries including some of the more illustrious local producers - 3 Drops, Moombaki, Alkoomi, Harewood Estate, Gallafrey and Plantagenet Wines - and Paul Nelson will be showcasing his farmhouse Black Pig Cyder, which is made in Denmark.

"The team from the Bush Food Factory and Cafe in Youngs Siding are doing all the food we need for the festival, and of course an oyster bar which is going to be built on a beach," he said.

And the demos? Sharp is not sure what he'll be demonstrating as yet. "There will most definitely be oysters but apart from that, it depends on what is fresh from the producers that week."

WA Food Ambassador Don Hancey, who has been quoted as saying that "WA has the best produce on the planet and I'm on a mission to let the world know about it", is doing a chickpea and oyster fritter. Poh Ling Yeow, of Poh's Kitchen fame, is returning for her second year and said: "I'm really excited to be part of a young but brilliant food and wine festival and to experience all the treasures the area has to offer."

Treasures indeed. The Oyster Festival is all about the produce.

The Albany Oyster

Festival and Bush Food Festival at Eyre Park, corner of Adelaide Crescent and Garden Street, Middleton Beach, from 2pm-8pm, Saturday March 1. Tickets online through Oztix: $23.50 per person, $56.10 family (2 adults, 2 children under 18 years, with children 6 or under free). Or $30 per person, $60 per family at the gate.

The West Australian

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