Tickets are now on sale for the 11th Annual Chowdafest competition presented by Stop & Shop. It will be held at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport Connecticut on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018 from 11am – 3pm. “Come early and definitely come hungry” can often be heard from Jim Keenan, executive director of the event.
Each year, a record-breaking crowd attends to determine which restaurants have the best chowder, soup & bisque in New England. Chowdafest features up to 40 award-winning restaurants in five different categories: Best New England clam chowder, Best Traditional clam chowder (reserved for Manhattan, Rhode Island and Shoreline clam chowders only), Best Creative Chowder, Best Soup & Bisque and Best Vegetarian entry (can be a chowder, soup or bisque). Keenan says the categories are necessary as you can’t compare a New England clam chowder to lobster bisque to chicken noodle soup.
Yankee Magazine has named Chowdafest as one of the “top events of the season” for the past two years and also named it just one of eight “not to be missed events in 2018”. Adults and kids alike are an official judge, enjoying unlimited sampling and rating everything on a scale from 7 to 10.5. The highest average rating in each category is declared champion. Unlike many food competitions with a selected panel of judges determines the winners, Chowdafest prides itself on being a true people’s choice event as well as being a “true value”, said Keenan. “Where else can you enjoy unlimited sampling, plus our incredible Italian and Mexican themed sections, free beverages and a sweet treats section, all for just 20 clams?” Kids ages 6-12 are just $5 and parking is free.
Last year, Chowdafest set an attendance record for the 10th straight year. Attendees literally traveled from all over the country to Connecticut, the chowder capital of New England, to be an official judge. “We’ve grown from just a few hundred people when we first started to tens of thousands, even selling out hotels” said Keenan. The event even features a “Stay & Slurp” hotel and ticket deal which can be found on their website.
“It’s great to see people come back year after year and bring more friends with them to share the experience,” Keenan said. More people also means more money will be raised in the fight against food insecurity. Last year, Chowdafest funded over a half million meals for the hungry through Food Rescue US resulting in over 2 million meals since the competition’s inception.
Each year, Chowdafest strives to increase the level of competition between restaurants, inviting only those they feel can win the competition. More than half the restaurants featured this year are new to the event. “One of the best compliments we get each year is hearing our restaurants tell us that when someone has won at Chowdafest, they have truly earned it because the level of culinary talent showcased is so high,” said Keenan. “The attendees notice too as they often mention how the restaurant collection was even better than the year before”. Keenan feels that the 2018 restaurant lineup is arguably the best yet will also feature chowders that have never been entered including a “shoreline” and lobster chowder.
Keenan expects other records to fall as two defending category champions are vying for an unprecedented fourth in a row title. Another first includes an accomplished chef entered in all five categories. Each year, Chowdafest invites a Manhattan-based restaurant to defend its namesake chowder. This year, Chowdafest extended an invitation to executive chef Bruce Rogers of the infamous NY based Hale & Hearty Soups restaurants. “Bruce makes a mean Manhattan clam chowder but being both the consummate competitor and one hell of a soup maven, he asked to enter all five categories” noted Keenan. “With a Hale & Hearty location now in Boston, it made Hale & Hearty’s eligible to compete in this New England event. Just making the attempt is worth an award but Bruce’s entries have a real shot of winning more than one category”. Keenan says no restaurant has ever attempted or been qualified for more than two categories in the same year and no one has won more than one category in doing so.