New England is known for its chowder – the origin of which dates back all the way into the 1800’s. And in all these years, chowder has consistently managed to be a staple in New England. It’s a matter of local pride and joy. So, what is it that makes this dish overcome the test of time? Is it the hearty nature of the soup? The creamy texture? The potatoes? Or the Oysters? Can anyone really say?!!!
It is only natural that such a great gastronomic innovation should be celebrated. And so it was. Thousands of people patiently waited a whole year for Chowdafest 2013. Last Sunday, “Soup-er bowl” day, marked the fifth annual Chowdafest. The popularity of this event has grown so much in the last few years that it had to be moved from a school gym in Westport to Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport this year. And the best part – proceeds from the festival go to CT Food Bank.
Thirty some restaurants competed in this event, offering their creations in three categories: Chowder, Creative Chowder and Soup/Bisque. The beauty of this event is that all the festival attendees get to taste and score each creation. At the end of the day, the ballots were counted and winners were declared. Donovan’s of Norwalk won first place in Chowder category. The Ginger Man of Norwalk won first place in the Creative Chowder category. Finally, the Crab Shell from Stamford won in the Soup/Bisque category.
While there and even after you leave, you are bound to engage in countless discussions regarding each person’s favorites and flops. I tasted them all and a few things stuck with me:
1. All the soups were unique and actually pretty good. Of course, some better than the others. But I can confidently say that there were no failures.
2. I was struck by the hard work that each restaurant must have put into it. Nicholas Roberts, for instance was shucking bushels of oysters at 4 AM on the day of the competition….to get their soup ready in time for 11 AM opening. Another vendor told me that they prepared almost 65-70 gallons of chowder to feed so many people. Can you imagine?!!!
3. Finally, it occurred to me that you take one simple word like “Chowder”, and watch how it get translates into so many interpretations by our local culinary talent. I tried thick soups, thin soups, soups with oysters, soups with corn, soups with sweet potato, soups with pork belly, soups with spicy wing sauce, soups rendered with Senegalese Peanut flavors…. How utterly amazing!
All of you folks who feel that Connecticut’s culinary landscape leaves a lot to be desired ( I know you are out there, because I have met some of you J ) should really stop and appreciate the rich and diverse culinary talent we are blessed with. Chowdafest 2013 was a shining example of that.
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