"More smile?" Angela Fredericks repeats photographer Derek Flynn's request, standing on top of four reams of paper.
The reluctant hero has been put in the spotlight after becoming the world's fastest Green-shell mussel opener at the 2014 Havelock Mussel Festival.
On March 15, Angela shucked 100 mussels in 1 minute, 59 seconds, beating the previous record set in 2007 of 2 min, 11 sec.
Workmates grin this week as a small media team arrives in the Kono Seafood's opening room to watch Angela working beside the conveyor belt. She is one of 70 openers doing the 6am to 2.30pm shift. All are dressed in white overpants, overcoats and gumboots. Ear muffs and hair nets are worn by everyone and breathable masks are tied around men's faces to cover beards, moustaches and any facial stubble.
Production manager Nigel McKinstry says workers' 7 -hour daily shifts are divided by short, mini-exercise breaks each hour.
Between batches of whole cooked mussel arriving on a conveyor belt before them, workers shrug their shoulders, turn their heads, wave their arms and stretch their fingers.
It is a good place to work, Angela says, but she isn't fond of the publicity generated by her record-setting shucking. Kono Seafoods doesn't mind, though, and opening room supervisor Lynette Valk is soon escorting Angela out of the workspace so another photograph can be taken and questions answered.
Angela removes her white protective clothing and hair net and enters the reception office in normal clothes. Someone stacks up the reams of paper so she can stand in front of a large, Marlborough Sounds landscape picture on the wall.
The 28-year-old joined the Blenheim-based seafood company in September but has been shucking mussels since she was 16. Her first two employers were in home-town Picton but when the last one shut down and Angela got a job at Kono Seafood in Riverlands, it made sense to move to nearby Blenheim.
Partner Chase and daughter Paige, 2, went, too, and Chase looks after Paige while Angela is at work. When she is back home, they switch roles and Chase heads to Kono Seafoods to join its 3.30pm to midnight shift.
Kono Seafood workers typically shuck 20,000 mussels a day. That equals 44 mussels a minute; slower than Angela's recording-breaking speed last month but still very quick for the top-quality product produced, says Nigel.
"The world record is purely about speed; it doesn't matter about [mussel] beards or ripped [mussel] lips. In production, it's all about quality," he says, citing buyers in the United States, Canada, China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Spain and Russia as expecting the best.
"We're immensely proud of Angela and her achievements, as well as other Kono members that won events at the Havelock Mussel Festival," he adds.
Competition can be fierce between work colleagues, Lynette says.
Angela nods. "I only did it to prove to one person that I was better than them - and she is already saying she is going to take it off my next year."
- The Marlborough Express
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