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The Great U.S.-Canada Lobster Roll War

A very specific arms race (claws race?) goes international.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire's contender for Longest Lobster Roll.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s contender for Longest Lobster Roll. Courtesy James Gibney/British Beer Company

On Tuesday morning, a team of chefs in Shediac, New Brunswick, rose early and headed to a secret-ish location. If all goes well, over the next couple of days, they’ll shape and bake a fluffy bread roll longer than a basketball court. They’ll mix scores of pounds of lobster meat with a few gallons of mayonnaise and a dozen heads of shredded lettuce. And they’ll put it all together to form a delicious-yet-intimidating summer treat—the longest lobster roll yet known to man.

These chefs are attempting to break a very specific world record. But they’re also firing the latest salvo in what has become an international lobster roll war: a multi-year claws race that has been mired by botched record-keeping, rocked by bread-related controversies, and escalated such that the sandwich-making prowess of one small town has come to stand in for the honor of an entire nation.

Volunteers construct Shediac's first ever Longest Lobster Roll, in July 2014.
Volunteers construct Shediac’s first ever Longest Lobster Roll, in July 2014. courtesy Shediac Lobster Festival

It all started back in 2014 in Shediac, a town of about 6,600 people tucked into an inlet on the New Brunswick coast. The town—one of several East Coast spots that calls itself the Lobster Capital of the World—holds an annual festival celebrating its ties to all things crustacean. “That year was the 65th anniversary of the Lobster Festival,” explains Pierre Cormier of the Shediac Chamber of Commerce. “So we were looking to make a 65-foot lobster roll.”

At first, they didn’t realize the audacity of this plan, but as they began researching tips and techniques, they realized that no one had yet accomplished a lobster roll of this length. The closest they could find was 61 feet, a feat accomplished in 2009 in Portland, Maine. “We came across that it would be a world record,” says Cormier. “So that’s how it all started.” (After a later discovery that chefs in New York state actually held the record, with a 66-foot lobster roll constructed in 2010, organizers upped their goal to 68 feet.)

When it comes to lobster roll length, the hard part isn’t the meat or the mayo—it’s the bread. In order to be deemed legitimate by the World Record Academy—a competitor of Guinness that offers “unlimited categories”— a record-breaking roll “has to be one unified bread from one end to the other,” says Cormier.

After much trial and error, Shediac chefs came up with a strategy: running a massive snake of risen dough through a conveyer belt oven, over and over, until it was unbroken and golden brown. The process “takes between 12 and 14 hours,” says Cormier.

The 68-foot roll was a success, unveiled as part of the 2014 festival’s opening ceremonies and gobbled up by attendees. (Proceeds went toward scholarships for local students.) Meanwhile, across the Northumberland Strait, the people of Prince Edward Island were watching. PEI is also known for its lobster, and the organizers of the island’s annual International Shellfish Festival were sure they could do better.

So in September of 2015, chefs there spent ten hours constructing and baking a 72-foot sandwich roll—four feet better than Shediac’s. (They had been aiming for longer, but “ran out of bread,” the CBC reported.) The roll was paraded from the kitchen by 32 fishers, dressed in black t-shirts like a team of casual pallbearers. A police escort stood watch. It was then placed in a special festival tent, where it was stuffed, and then consumed, by enthusiastic volunteers.

Prince Edward Island crowed over the victory, but New Brunswick pushed back. The PEI chefs had been chasing an outdated number, they said: New Brunswick’s most recent roll, from July of 2015, had been 85 feet long, not 72. (“We were foolish enough to do it again,” says Cormier.) As they were already so far ahead of the pack, they hadn’t bothered to update their website.

PEI asked to go to the tape. By next season, though, the point was made moot. At the 67th annual Shediac Lobster Festival, in July of 2016, New Brunswick outdid themselves, PEI, and everyone else by constructing a 106.2-foot roll, as long as a ten-story building is tall. “We’ve been on treadmills the last six months training for this,” Cormier told the CBC. “This year they’ll have to top [106.2 feet] if they want to beat us.”

They did. After their own two-month training session—which involved finding a venue that could house a long enough table, and soliciting lobster donations from the entire island—PEI rolled out a 120-foot sandwich in September of 2016. This time it took 60 fishers to carry the thing, and 400 people to eat it. They even lobbied Guinness, asking them to consider adding a brand new category for their accomplishment.

As PEI celebrated, New Brunswick was briefly disheartened. The timing of the respective festivals, combined with the dedication of their opponents, meant their future records would last for a few months at most. “To be honest, we thought we were all done,” says Cormier. “We thought, ‘They’re always going to beat us.’”

But the race wasn’t done with them. “I said, ‘If there’s a good reason, we’ll make another one,’” says Cormier. And there was: Canada’s 150th birthday celebration, which inspired the Shediac lobster roll team to yet new lengths. “I decided we would make one 150 feet long, and then we would stop,” he says.

Thus was set to end some good, clean Canadian fun. Since the first back-and-forth, representatives from each festival have attended the other to officially measure the roll, and to pose for goofy photos. The CBC has covered the feud religiously, and supporters of both players war good-naturedly in article comments, exchanging sunny insults and arguing over whether a proper lobster roll should include lettuce at all. “It’s a great camaraderie between the two cities,” says Cormier.

But two weeks ago, a wildcard player emerged from the shadows: Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Having read about the rivalry—and looking to “bring bragging rights to the States”—chef James Gibney of the British Beer Company entered the fray with a 159.5-foot roll, which he and other workers constructed outdoors under a massive awning. They threw a lobster-chowing party, sold tickets, and donated the proceeds to Hero Pups, a local charity that places therapy dogs with military veterans.

Afterward, they sent paperwork into the World Record Academy to be certified. But when the Canadian teams got wind of this newcomer, they found themselves suddenly united. They quickly contested the accomplishment, saying that Portsmouth’s sandwich roll was not continuous.

Gibney—who has since withdrawn his certification paperwork, citing both this wrinkle and the WRA’s $8,000 record registration fee—says he wasn’t aware of this requirement. “We did use 5-foot sections pieced together to make the roll,” he writes in an email, “which is how we thought the others did it from the pictures we saw.”

The 159-foot roll, stretching as far as the eye can see.
The 159-foot roll, stretching as far as the eye can see. Courtesy James Gibney/British Beer Company

But he also says he’s figured out the roll-making trick, and that Canada should watch their backs. “Will we try this again? You bet,” he writes. “Will I have the biggest ever on [public] record? You bet… Good luck to PEI, I hope they smash it!”

As the controversy swirls, Shediac is forging ahead: “We’re still going to do ours,” says Cormier. By now, they have begun mixing, kneading, and shaping the dough; on Wednesday, they’ll lay out the big festival table with however many yards of delicious ‘wich they’ve managed to create. “What we’re trying to do tomorrow is exceed 150 feet,” says Cormier. “But as always, we’ll start by doing the first foot. Where it stops, that’s where it’s going to be.”

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