Raw Talent

The city's best oyster shuckers all hail from the same unlikely place.

Photograph by Mark Fleming

Photograph by Mark Fleming

Ask local chefs who’s best with an oyster knife, and you’ll hear this a lot: the ladies manning the raw bar at Neptune Oyster. “They’re pros,” says Stephen Oxaal, chef de cuisine at B&G Oysters. “When I go over there, I know I’ll be getting good oysters.”

In other words, Fernanda “Pikachu” Muneton, Dora “Natalia” Quiones, and Zoraida Sepulveda know their way around bivalves. They’ve been at it for years, together opening as many as 1,000 on a Saturday night — suffering calluses and the occasional nick so customers at the little North End raw bar can slurp down Wellfleets and Pemaquids.

Other shuckers in town — like Quiones’s cousin Eladio Gaviria, who works at Jasper White’s Summer Shack in the Back Bay — might be a tad quicker. But give Neptune’s petite women five seconds, and they’ll give you a cold, raw cup that’s perfectly free of sand or shell. “You don’t have to be very strong to open an oyster,” explains Neptune chef Michael Serpa. “It’s all about fluidity.”

There’s something else these shuckers share: a hometown 2,500 miles away. They all come from the same landlocked town of Don Matías, Colombia. Shucking has provided them with the opportunity to make 12 times more money than they would working at dairy farms or in clothes manufacturing, the main industries back home.

At the root of this unlikely family tree is Summer Shack’s Gaviria. He used to work at Kingfish Hall, where he trained a Colombian woman named Adriana Muneton, who would become a local shucking legend — so much so that when Garrett Harker opened B&G Oysters in 2003, he knew he had to have Muneton working for him. “She was so elegant — she did the job of three guys,” Harker recalls. “The oysters were perfect. It was just a revelation — shucking is attention to detail, technique and leverage, not brute strength.”

In 2004 Muneton left B&G to help open Neptune Oyster. Already onboard at the time was Quiones, who would recruit her daughter (Sepulveda) to form two-thirds of Neptune’s trio of superstar shuckers. The final member of the group was Fernanda, who was trained by her aunt — none other than Adriana Muneton.

One night, a couple sat at Neptune’s bar, mesmerized by Quiones. She wrapped a kitchen towel around a Wellfleet, plied the hinge open, then glided the knife under the oyster, gently flipping it over to show its plump side. “See how fast she did that?” marveled the husband. “Fuerte!” Quiones said. Strong. Though she was referring to the oyster, she might as well have been talking about herself.