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Warm Up at Weekend Chowdafest in Westport

Get your fill of chowder and help feed the hungry at the same time this weekend at the third annual Chowdafest , a chowder and soup competition created by Westport resident Jim Keenan that benefits the Connecticut Food Bank.

Jim, a member of the Unitarian Church, started Chowdafest in 2008 after being inspired by a similar event he attended about seven years ago.

"We were at some sort of Christmas prelude festival in Kennebunkport [Maine], and off the beaten path was this chowder competition," said Jim, the event's chairman. "We went in and got to taste all the different chowders. It was nice, and I thought it would be a neat thing to do — very New England."

But Chowdafest isn't a typical food competition. Instead of having a designated panel of judges that pick the winners, everyone who attends Chowdafest is a judge.

"When people walk in, they're given a spoon and a scorecard," Jim said. Not only did Jim think it would be an interesting community event to bring to Westport, he also thought it would be a great way to help the food bank, an organization his church often supports, on a large scale. And he was right.

"Between cash and canned goods collected during the first year's event, we were able to provide around 5,000 meals," said Jim. "Last year, we were able to provide around 15,000 meals." Anticipating a much larger crowd this year, Jim is confident the event will generate more cash and food donations than before.

And because he's expecting more people this year, the competition is being held at Bedford Middle School, not the Unitarian Church where the event was held the past two years.

This year, 18 restaurants from Fairfield County are competing, including several event newcomers such as Bobby Q's in Westport. A total of 28 different soups and chowders will be available for sampling. Categories include classic New England chowder, creative chowder and soup/bisque.

Chowdafest will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adult admission is $6, and child admission is $2. If you bring a canned or boxed nonperishable food item, you'll get $1 off the adult price.

Do you plan on attending Chowdafest? Have you attended in the past? Tell us about it!

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