Chowdafest '11: Chefs vie for chowder bragging rights in Westport
I should probably be embarrassed to admit this, but whenever I see chowder on a menu, I feel inclined to repeat the scene from "The Simpsons" where a French waiter places a bowl in front of Freddy Quimby.
"Hey, what the hell is this?" asks the Boston-accented Freddy.
"It's a bowl of show-dair, sir," says the waiter.
"What did you call it?" asks Freddy. "Show-dair? It's chowda! Say it right! Say it Frenchy! Say chowda!"
Chowder, chowda, show-dair. No matter how you pronounce it, you can get your fill on Saturday at the 3rd annual "Chowdafest" at Bedford Middle School in Westport. The event, created by Jim Keenan, will benefit the Connecticut Food Bank.
"I found myself, about ten years ago, in Maine," said Keenan. "There was a chowder fest and I thought, `That's a great idea. We're in New England. We should do this, and let's help the food bank,' " he said.
The twist with this festival, as opposed to others, Keenan said, is that everyone gets to be a judge. With spoons in hand, visitors get to sample a total of over 56 ounces of various soups and chowders.
This year, the competition is fierce. There are three categories: Classic New England chowder, creative chowder, and soup/bisque.
Norwalk's Ginger Man is the defending champ in the chowder category, although Shelton's Liquid Lunch has come in second and third place in the world chowder competition in Newport, R.I. The Ginger Man appears to be keeping its entry under its toque, but Liquid Lunch is planning on serving up a Sante Fe chowder and a buffalo chicken soup.
Southport Brewing Company is the incumbent in the soup category. Last year, they made a Thanksgiving Day bisque. "It was like the future," said Keenan. "You know how they always said we'd have dinner in a pill? This was like that. You could taste the turkey, the gravy, the stuffing and even the cranberry."
This year Southport Brewing will be cooking up two different entries: a corn and poblano chowder, and a BLT bisque.
Some other interesting entries include DaPietro's Mediterranean chowder and roasted cauliflower soup, and Soup Alley's Sicilian sausage & clam chowder and El Queso Grande.
Rookies in the competition include Bobby Q's with a Howlin' Chicken Chowder and a smoked chickarina soup, Los Cabos with a Mexican meatball soup, Nicholas Roberts Gourmet Bistro with Guinness and Chorizo clam chowder and a lobster bisque, and Italian Corner Deli, MacKenzie's, Old Post Tavern, and Restaurant at Rowayton all entering into the traditional New England clam chowder category.
Another newbie to the event is Westport's River House. Chef Raul Restrepo plans to make a seafood chowder and a vegetarian soup. "In the seafood chowder, we use clams, cooked in the traditional way for New England clam chowder, but with the addition of shrimp, scallops and mussels." As for the soup, it will contain asparagus, spinach and Yukon Gold potatoes. "It is our first time participating and we are really looking forward to be there," said Restrepo.
In the past, the event was held in November, but Keenan is hoping that this year's timing -- on "SOUP'er Bowl Saturday" -- will draw out the crowds. "People are tired of being shut in," he said. "They want to get out. And it's such a good deal."
Indeed, you'd be hard-pressed to find a cheaper lunch anywhere. Admission for adults is $6 ($5 if you bring a canned good for donation to the food bank) and kids are admitted for $2. "We try to bend over backwards for the kids," said Keenan. They get stickers, tattoos, chef hats, and they also get to vote for their favorite chowder. I mean, chowda.
Chowdafest will take place Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., in Bedford Middle School, 88 North Ave., Westport. For more information, visit www.chowdafest.org.