Daniel Notkin's entire world is oysters. As one of Montreal's top oyster shuckers, his profession stretches beyond just the culinary side, though. The 38-year-old believes improving the environment and ocean sustainability are as important as serving the perfect oyster dish...
Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
I started my company about 3 years ago. The inspiration for the company was to source the best of what I wanted and be very hands-on and know everything about the things I loved. There are some great companies who have great things in this city - like my friends at La Mer - and have been invaluable to me, but I just wanted to delve into it and be more hands-on.
The career route started I guess when I was about 6 months old on the beaches of Gloucester, Massachusetts - and every summer thereafter. I would catch lobsters and crabs and urchins and eventually show them to the kids who were on vacation who had never seen these things live out of the water before. That passion came back when I was asked to return to the high-end sushi restaurant I had worked for to open their raw bar. Right back to showing people the most amazing things they had never seen before. Aaaaaand....here we are.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part is the people I run into that remember me from an event I was shucking oysters at, or from the oyster bar and were really just happy at the experience, or those people who at this time of the year [mid-summer] stop me and ask "when is Oysterfest?!" That makes me happy to know that people enjoy the small things I hoped they would. I don't think there's anything more important than giving people something that makes their life better.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Oy...I don't know. Sitting back a bit and being able to delegate to those who are part of what I do different ways we can save all the stuff in the ocean. Maybe I'll have taken a vacation.
What does success look like to you?
A little kid who's smiling after eating the first oyster they've ever had and looking through the other oysters to pick out their second. And when they begin asking about what an oyster is and what it does in the world. The other moment is at Montreal Oysterfest when we're about to start the shucking competition and I look over to my buddy Myles who is our resident DJ and we nod to each other and drop the pin to play the Oytsterfest theme song ("shimmy shimmy ya") and the entire crowd starts jumping up and down as the shuckers begin crackin’ oysters. Looking out over that crowd and the perfect song and everyone having a blast and jumping up and down - that's a success too. From the 200 who were there the first year to the 1500 last year. Just great. That's my favourite moment all year.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Hm. Tough one. Hasn’t happened yet/People actually coming to the first Oysterfest/Finishing 4th in Canada for shucking/Friends funding the rest of our documentary on oyster shuckers and our passion/Loving a girl I met because of oysters. All moments of love.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Siddhartha said: "Your job in life is to find what you love and give yourself completely to it." Also, another saying I came up while in a conversation with my friend to whom I gave his first job in restaurants and became a chef at the famous French Laundry: "To do a thing? It takes effort." 90% of people won't understand that.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Oh yeah. Well, our non-profit, The Open Pier Foundation, which is a beneficiary of Montreal Oysterfest. It is geared towards ocean sustainability, and informing chefs and patrons about the fish we eat within the ecosystem rather than as a fish on its own. Informing is the key. Any children's foundations. This year we did events for Breast Cancer and The Jewish General hospital for equipment, and an event for Alzheimer's - A Night to Remember. We're very flattered that they all want to have us shucking oysters at their events and we try to do all we can. Kids and the environment are the main ones though...
What to you is notable?
Every single thing in the universe. That's the other important thing. Everything is fascinating on some level. Except reality television.
Everything else is just amazing. But primarily the beauty of ocean life - starfish (ironic, since they kill oysters), sea horses, the fish, whales, seaweed...flowers are amazing to me. The fractal expression of most and the beauty of orchids in particular. Some of the more amazing insects. Praying mantis, stick bugs, a wasp’s nest. All very dopey stuff.
Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
iPhone. Visuals, images, linking with my iPad....I have two hands for a reason. One holds the iPhone and my iPad - the other holds the oyster knife.