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For The Love of Chowder – 2018 Edition

October 30, 2018 1 comment

Blogging is all (mostly?) about traditions, isn’t it? I’m talking about topics, things or experiences we like to write about. If you blog for a while, you have a number of posts which can be called traditional, as they cover the same subject – yearly, monthly, weekly, daily? (ouch!). For sure it works this way for me – there is a number of experiences I like to talk about on the regular basis – as those experiences take place.

One of such experiences is the Chowdafest, a fall event dedicated to the humble (or not) soup, generally known as Chowder – if you want a bit of an education on what the chowder is, I can offer you the post I wrote after attending my first Chowdafest back in 2015, which provides a few details on the different types of chowders.

The 2018 event took place at around the usual time (Sunday, September 30th), at the usual place – Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. Even the weather was the usual – sunny, bright and not too cold. However, the summer and early fall in New England saw an incredible amount of rain, so the grounds were unusually wet and people had to be careful walking around.

As we entered, all visitors were given a ballot and a pencil, to mark down their favorites. The back side of the ballot had a map of the event, as in addition to all the competitors, there were lots of vendors (sponsors) offering other tasty treats, so one didn’t have to survive on the chowder alone. Cabot Creamery, Harney & Sons Tea, Ocean Spray, Stop & Shop, Polar Beverages, and many others were serving Mexican and Italian food, ice cream, juice, tea, coffee, sparkling water – you had a lot of fun food options beyond chowder.

 

Same as last year, there were 5 categories were participants were competing for the title of “the best” – Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian. The participating restaurants this year represented states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Obviously, I’m not going to give you much of a detailed report here about all the chowders I tasted, so here are my overall impressions:

  • For the 4 years that I’m attending the event, I’m happy with the overall quality and variety. It is not boring and once I get out of the food coma at the end of the event, I’m instantly happy to think about next year’s Chowdafest.
  • The overall level of booth decorations in 2018 was less than in the previous years. Many places would just have a serving station and maybe a recipe. It takes away a bit from the “Fest[ival]” experience. Hopefully, in 2019, we can go back to more festive booth settings.
  • A few vendors run out of chowder/soup in the middle of the day. I saw one just pack up and leave, and another one saying “more soup is coming in 30 minutes” – not good for visitors, and really a bad plan for competitors – you can’t win by serving only half of the visitors.
  • I’m still puzzled how Pike’s Place from Seattle always wins the New England Clam Chowder category – I think it is a combination of service – they carry their chowder around so people don’t have to wait in line, and intimidation – they display all their trophies from the past years, and people automatically think “ahh, they must be the best with so many awards” (works the same way as multiple medal pictures on the wine bottles). To me, their chowder is not bad, but for instance, I preferred the one from 250 Market far more than Pike’s Place. Oh well, the people have spoken…
  • I’m happy that at least in one category – Vegetarian – my top choice matched the people’s choice. Truffle Mushroom Bisque from Old Post Tavern in Fairfield, CT was delicious, and it won the category.
  • I’m also happy that Drunkin Pumpkin Seafood Chowder from Our House Bistro in Winooski VT took the top spot in Creative Chowder category – their soups are always good, the presentation is excellent with lots of “self-serve” condiments, and the booth is always a pleasure to look at.
  • For the first time, I saw the competition trophies. At first, I didn’t understand the collection of the old ship memorabilia in a middle of the field – until the later when I saw the plaques and realized that those were actually the trophies.
  • Believe it or not, but in the Chowdafest 2018, my favorite soup was not really a chowder at all – it was a Curried Chicken Chowder from Hale & Hearty from Boston, MA – the only soup I gave the top 10.5 rating.

Here is the list of winners in the 5 categories we mentioned before (Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, Vegetarian). For the more detailed list, which includes 2nd and 3rd place winners, please use this link.

Pike Place Chowder
Our House Bistro
Geronimo Tequila Bar & Southwest Grill
Dunville’s
Old Post Tavern

As usual, let me leave you with a copy of my ballot – just to prove that I take the Chowdafest competition very seriously 🙂

You can already mark your calendars for Sunday, October 6th, 2019 – the 12th annual Chowdafest competition.

Before we part, you might want to check out Chowdafest’s sister event – the Great Mac & Chili Challenge, taking place this Sunday, November 4th at 11 AM at the same Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, CT. The weather should be great! Cheers!

For The Love of Chowder

October 13, 2015 19 comments
Definition of “Chowder” according to Google:
chow·der
ˈCHoudər/
noun
noun: chowder; plural noun: chowders
  1. a rich soup typically containing fish, clams, or corn with potatoes and onions

Cup of chowder, anyone? As I happen to live in the area of the United States called New England, the soup, most often known as New England Clam Chowder, can be seen on the menu of many restaurants. In most of the cases, it is called Clam Chowder, as it contains clams; two most popular versions are called New England Clam Chowder (milk/heavy cream based) and Manhattan Clam Chowder (red tomato based).

As Chowder is a type of soup, the question might be “what makes Chowder different from the Soup”. This is why I started this blog post with the definition of Chowder, which is a very good one. I would, however, make one small improvement, based on this interesting article – the chowder should have small chunks of [clams, vegetables, etc], which would perfectly distinguish it from the “cream of” soups , such as Cream of Asparagus, for instance. So the better definition of Chowder can be “a rich soup typically containing small chunks of fish, clams, or corn with potatoes and onions”.

Blue skies at the Chowder Fest

Anyway, why all of a sudden studious exercise in the “science” of soups? On Sunday, I attended 7th annual Chowder Festival, which took place at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. It was really a Chowder deep immersion – 39 competitors from 12 different states brought their best Chowder offerings to be sampled during 4 hours. There were lots of other things to try – juices, Dunkin Donuts munchkins, Cabot cheese, The Farmer’s Cow ice cream – in the other words, lots of fun for all ages.

The competition was conducted in 4 different categories – Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowder, Creative Chowder and Soup/Bisque. Focusing just on clam chowders, it appears that there are 4 of them (surprised?). The Classic New England is the chowder which is white in color because of the use of heavy cream or milk. Traditional Chowder includes two different types – Manhattan, which is tomato based, and Rhode Island, which is “clear”.  Rhode Island clam chowder is something I discovered earlier this year for the first time – it simply looks like a thick, rich soup with clams etc, but without milk or tomatoes. At the Chowder Fest I learned that there is a newly popular style – Long Island Clam Chowder, which also can be called “half and half” – it is a mix of Traditional New England with Manhattan. There was one chowder of that type at the festival, served by Parallel Post from Trumbull, Connecticut – it was very tasty.

As I mentioned, 39 chowders and soups were presented at the competition. I didn’t try all 39 (wonder if someone did), but I did try at least 30. Just to explain how competition works: as you enter through the gates, you are given a ballot and a pencil. The ballot contains the list of all the chowders present at the festival – as you taste, if you happen to like the chowder, you give it a rating from 7 up to 10. The ballots are tabulated later on, and voila – the champion and two runner ups are declared in each category.

ChowderFest Ballot

[bad] picture of my ballot

It seems that Festival’s organization is quite efficient – the winners are already announced, right on the next day. Care to guess from what state was the winner of the Chowder Fest 2015 in the Traditional New England Chowder category? Pike Place from (drum roll, please) Seattle, Washington. This was not the first time they are crowned as “Chowder Champions”  – their whole counter was covered with the 1st place medals:

I tasted Pike Place chowder and it was one of my top favorites, with “just enough” of everything – I’m glad to see that this was crowd’s opinion too. If you are interested, here you can find the list of all winners, current and the past.

I’m glad that I was able to attend the event – learned something new and tasted lots of delicious chowders. I plan to make it my annual tradition from now on – and may be you should join too? I have to finish with the question though – do you like clam chowder? If you do, what is your favorite style? Don’t be shy here… Cheers!