WESTPORT, Conn. — As Westport dished up its annual New England Chowdafest on Sunday, Pike Place Chowder came all the way from Seattle to defend its 2015 New England Clam Chowder win.
Pike Place Chowder and nearly 40 other chowder-makers turned this year’s event into the biggest and best ever. Some 5,000 people were expected to come out to enjoy the food and festivities.
The event was started at Westport Unitarian Church by Jim Keenan to help a few local restaurants with marketing. It outgrew that venue, then Bedford Middle School, and even the Arena at Harbor Yard. It’s now an outdoor event, staged at Sherwood Island’s East Beach.
The gray and not quite chilly Sunday afternoon was close to ideal for eating chowder — summer’s over, and soup season’s on the way.
The chowders were judged in four categories — New England, soup or bisque, traditional (New York and Rhode Island), and creative.
Winners were picked by the tasters, each of whom was given a ballot, a pencil and a spoon when they paid their $15, or $5 for children. The ballot was marked in half-point increments from 7 to 10.5.
The beneficiary is South Norwalk-based Community Plates, a nonprofit “food rescue” organization whose Site Director, Westporter Kate Albrecht, said “gathers perishable food items and redistributes them the same day” to food pantries and soup kitchens, to add quality and variety to the diets of many food insecure people in the area.
Larry Mellum, owner of Pike Place Chowder, said it is the quality of the ingredients that makes their chowder the best. “The clams, the cold pasteurized cream and the unique blend of spices,” along with the other goodies round out its flavor.
He began this business 13 years ago, with a recipe that won a cook-off at an earlier venture of his, and one that was inducted into the Great Chowder Cook-Off Hall of Fame.
In Seattle he offers eight chowders daily — most of them also award winners.
Mellum believes events like this improve his products. He competes from coast to coast, and added that competing here was a “great opportunity for the staff to travel, it keeps us sharp, and keeps us relevant.”