With the NCAC’s annual premier event scheduled for August 16th (food service starts at 1:00 pm), we wanted to take a few moments to talk with Head Crab Paul Farmer and gain his invaluable insights into this WVU rite-of-fall. Below is an interview with the legend himself, sharing his thoughts on the history of the event, secrets to its success, his possible public singing debut, and why Roman numerals still matter!
I know you’ve been the Head Crab for 36 years now, but I assume you just didn’t jump into such a prominent role overnight. How did you ascend to such lofty status?
Head Crab: Well, I actually came up with the idea for the Crab Feast in my term as President of the NCAC. My intent was to have a family outing which basically focused on a time consuming local delicacy. The Chesapeake Bay blue crab fit the bill, so 36 years later, here we are. The honorary title has just kind of evolved over the years, and I like to think of it as a very proud badge of honor.
What’s been your secret sauce to make that happen?
Head Crab: There are so many parts to making the Crab Feast the nationally preeminent event that it’s become. We started out as 100% self-catered, which means we trucked in everything. And I mean everything, including the crabs, the cooking of which is a very labor-intensive undertaking. We were able to recruit a number of dedicated WVU Alumni to help and we’ve been fortunate to get a lot of volunteers over the years. We couldn’t do it without them. This year we’ll have five or six folks here who came to the first of our barnburners. Our master chefs, Sam Fisher and Tony Hyton have been to almost all of the Crab Feasts. Dave Lunter assists with the corn and I know he was there at the beginning. So were Mike and Linda Oliver. The check-in crew of Lionel Taylor, Mike Fulton, his daughter, Amanda & Jay Pugh and cookers, Bob Fox and Rick Blankenship have been a big help for many years, too. Great help… that’s the secret sauce!
What’s your favorite part of the Crab Feast? I’m going to assume it’s not clean-up!
Head Crab: My favorite part starts with the greeting of long-term friends and newcomers as we begin the set-up and it continues during the day as it becomes evident that our dedicated crew has pulled off another commendable event. Another part in development is our sing-along, which admittedly is a work in progress. This year we are pleased to announce that Miss West Virginia, Paige Madden, will lead this crowd pleasing event. There’s also a wild rumor that she will perform in a duet with the Head Crab himself. If that happens I’m sure it’s going to be an all-time tear-jerking classic.
Do you have any idea how many crabs you’ve served up over the years, and without naming names, has there been anyone in particular who stands out for doing an ‘exceptional’ job on the consumption side?
Head Crab: We estimate we’ve cooked about 110,000 crabs over the past 36 years, give or take a few dozen bushels. As to our trenchermen who have attained recognition for crab consumption, during the earlier days when the crab supply was inexhaustible, we had a Golden Crab award presented to the ‘stand-out’ consumer. However, due to the present day restricted quantities we need to be very circumspect in promoting the all-you-can-eat terminology. But, that’s what we promise and so we deliver!
What’s been the secret to the success of the event, and what do you think makes it so popular?
Head Crab: The success is attributed to numerous factors, but I think the primary focus is having a heap of steamed crabs in the center of a newspaper covered table where alumni and friends, beer at hand, are gathered to “eat hard crabs”, extracting the meat with mallet and knife by ritualistic technique which has been painstakingly taught to newcomers partaking of this gastronomic delicacy for the first time. In this time consuming process there is plenty of time for socialization at a very relaxed pace. It helps to have a cold beverage on-hand, too.
Finally, like all great champions, I imagine preparation for you is key. How do you feel about where you are going into this year’s event?
Head Crab: At present all key elements of our critical path schedule are in place for a momentous Crab Feast XXXVIII. One of the critical factors is that we need to continue spreading the word and urging our alumni to pay in advance. This will be on-going until the day of the event. Also, we will continue looking for volunteers and ways to make this the WVU Alumni Association’s favorite event. Our dedicated alumni should be on notice that from time to time we will list VIPs who will be attending. We’re hoping to have President Gordon Gee join us if his schedule permits, and we’ll have a few surprise guests that will make it worth your while, along with all of the great crab we’ll be cooking. I’ve also been asked about the use of Roman numerals in the event’s title. It just seems clear to me that our gathering has reached Super Bowl-like epic proportion, and the use of Roman numerals is only fitting. I’ll see you on the 16th! Or make that, on August XVI.