RAW TALENT

Written By: Chris Sleeper | Photography By: Wayne Chinnock

Master shucker Rick Sorocco’s world is your oyster.

According to bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, becoming a master at your craft takes 10,000 hours. But if you ask Rick Sorocco—better known around Nantucket simply as “Rocco”—earning the title of master shucker takes about 100,000—pounds of oysters that is. Rocco and his raw bar team at CRU shuck over 200,000 oysters a season—every single one of them made to order. “It’s all about the three Cs,” he says. “Clean, Cold, and Cut.” Down on Straight Wharf he stands behind a shellfish tower, serving up some of the island’s tastiest bivalves delivered straight from the shell. If shucking an oyster is an art, Rick Sorocco is Rembrandt.

Growing up on the island, Rocco and his father went clamming every Sunday and scalloping in the fall. His dad used to say, “If you’re gonna dig for ‘em, you’re gonna have to open ‘em too.” He perfected that skill working behind legendary local raw bars like Spanky’s until taking his post at CRU, where he’s been for a decade. “Rocco cares 100 percent of the time, which is something that you can’t teach,” says Chef Erin Zircher, co-owner of CRU. “Along with his work ethic and vast knowledge of shellfish, I also get to soak up all of the other wonderful things about him each day.”

Sitting at his raw bar is like going to an oyster master class, in which Rocco serves up each perfectly cut oyster with a side of storytelling and shellfish education. While his swiftness with a shucking blade might seem enough to confirm his status, CRU co-owner Jane Stoddard insists that Rocco’s mastery goes well beyond the bar: “A master shucker is a passionate raw bar expert with an expansive knowledge of oysters from their growing and harvesting to storing, shucking, and serving them.” And being a true master of the trade doesn’t stop once the shellfish gets slurped. It also comes with social and environmental responsibility that Rocco takes very seriously.

He and his raw bar team have been an integral part of Nantucket’s shell recycling program—Shuck it for Nantucket—since its inception in 2014. The program was established by assistant biologist Leah Hill as part of the ongoing town effort, as Hill described, “to supplement the natural populations in Nantucket waters to ensure the fisheries keep going.” Today there are now over thirty restaurants involved with the program whereby all shells from the shucked shellfish return to the harbor for a massive restoration project.

Hill says that CRU has contributed significantly to the “oyster renaissance,” which has improved water quality in the harbor by way of oysters’ ability to filter and clean up to fifty gallons of water a day. The shells also provide a habitat for other shellfish, crustaceans, and finfish; stabilize the ocean pH; and act as a buffer against erosion. Rocco and his team are directly responsibly for more than 35 percent of the project’s total restoration, recycling upwards of 20,000 pounds of shells during its busiest summers.

Whether behind his raw bar or delivering shells back to the harbor, Rick Sorocco is one of the leaders that makes up the island’s culinary community. With his passion for the little marine mollusk second to none, he is using his position and expertise to educate and better our environment. “New England has such a heritage of oysters and it’s always been my heart and soul,” he says proudly. “They’re a living thing and they deserve respect.”

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