On Saturday, Feb. 23, local restaurateurs and caterers gathered at the beautiful Edmonds Yacht Club. What a great venue to host an event that invited our community in to sample a variety of rich savory seafood soups, better know as chowder.
Clam Chowder Cook-off title holders from years past joined new contenders — from Edmonds and Lynnwood — that we’re ladled into the cute collectable cups, hoping that their unique recipe would capture this year’s title — “BEST Clam Chowder in Edmonds.”
Local folks lined up to traverse the room, visit each table (maybe twice if they could manage) and after slurping spoonfuls from each culinary candidate, voted for their People’s Choice Award for Best Traditional and Best Cutting-Edge Chowder (anything outside of “traditional” chowder), plus the Best Booth.
Judges were sequestered and presented with anonymous samples. Numbered containers, annotated with colored dots — yellow for Traditional, and green for the Cutting Edge. Choices favored by the culinary experts, yours truly among the chosen, were recorded and tallied for each category. Later judges mingled in the crowd to observe the various presentations and record their votes for Best Booth.
My Edmonds News readers need to know that difficult decisions were made this year. Recipes in both categories made us revisit the contents presented in the little Styrofoam cups for additional tastes. Designers of the display tables created seagoing ambience for the contestants ladling their tasty fare.
This year’s Chowder Cook-off judges’ panel included yours truly, and I happy to participate again this year. The rest of the chowder crew in the judge’s room ranged from celebs on the airwaves, to seafood experts, to a former Boston resident.
New to the event, but no stranger to seafood: Ken ‘Kuzma’ Hewitt, who has been working in the fish business since he was 7 years old. Following 18 years as head of seafood for Uwajimaya, Ken opened Kuzma’s Fish Market in Edmonds, where customers benefit from his experience and expertise with all types of fresh seafood.
Stitch Mitchell has been on the airwaves since 1982, including radio gigs in Portland, Ore. and Seattle twice, and currently in Everett, at KXA Classic Country. Stitch has great “taste memories” dining on West Coast seafood.
Edmonds native Matt Case, a DJ on 95.7 The Jet, has educated taste buds, and equal tenure in dining on our amazing Northwest seafood bounty.
Nick Allard, morning and noon meteorologist on KIRO 7, could tell us plenty about the possibilities of snow this weekend, but very little about seafood likes/dislikes. Nick announced that he actually doesn’t like seafood at all… nada! Thank goodness his mom, Sandy Allard, came to his aid. Sandy grew up in Boston and loves all things from the sea — totally qualified to take her son’s spot to slurp down chowder and express opinion based on years of sampling Boston’s best.
Chamber President Greg Urban declared us to be the most efficient group of judges to date. We’d selected our favorites in both categories of chowder, turned in our ballots and went out to enjoy the stylings of STRUM — Seattle’s Totally Relaxed Ukulele Musicians — as we maneuvered through the crowds to rate the display booths.
Here’s the “seafood” surprise: the winners. The past years’ reigning chowder champs were dethroned — new folks took the top spots.
Judges selected Pacific Northwest Catering as their top pick for Best Traditional Chowder, with second place awarded to The Mar•Ket Fishmonger. Traditional chowder embodies tender, good-sized (whole, not tiny chopped pieces) clams and cubes of still-firm potatoes, in lightly-seasoned, slightly-thickened, milk-based broth. Ingredients should allow seafood be the main feature of the dish. Both of the judges’ award choices excelled on this criteria.
Cutting Edge Chowder — Diverse interpretations on recipes and creative ingredients challenged our taste buds. Many spoonfuls later, Salish Sea Brewing won the category closely followed by The Kingston Alehouse for the second-place spot. Both entries employed fresh herb toppings and kicked up the flavor with spices like curry. “Extra” ingredients added interest to the cups of chowder. Favorites were smoked salmon and bacon bits.
Strolling about the floor, I personally was impressed by many sophisticated displays, and gave “extra” points to those who served up their chowder from behind a screen. No matter how careful one is with the ladle, the soup cauldrons quickly become a bit unsightly.
Judges’ tallies revealed that Salish Sea Brewing was the display with the most appeal this year.
The folks in attendance have a say in matters as well, and seemed to be in sync with the judges’ decisions this year.
People’s Choice Award for Best Traditional Chowder went to Pacific Northwest Catering.
People’s Choice Award for Best Cutting-Edge Chowder was awarded to Salish Sea Brewing.
Congratulations to all of the winners and hearty thanks to all who participated in this year’s Clam Chowder Cook-off. Thanks to the weather gods too — Sunday is soon enough to strap on the snowshoes again.
— By Kathy Passage
Former Edmonds Restaurant News columnist Kathy Passage still contributes occasionally to My Edmonds News, and we’re always glad she does!