Westport, Conn – Not just any restaurant can enter the New England Chowdafest, only those who are invited. “About six years ago, chowder lovers started telling us that Chowdafest was the best such competition in New England” said executive director, Jim Keenan. “We knew what they meant but it made us wonder how we could be the best if the rest of New England wasn’t in the competition. Soon after that we started searching for great chowder, soup and bisque from restaurants from all over New England.”
Restaurants frequently ask to compete in Chowdafest and Keenan is happy to consider them after he’s samples what they want to enter. “Just having a good chowder doesn’t mean it’s good enough to be invited. As a rule, we don’t invite anyone if we don’t think they can win one of our four categories. One of our competing restaurants who literally travels all over the country participating in chowder events probably says it best, “when you win the New England Chowdafest, you’ve earned it”. ‘”Every year the bar is raised and the level of completion gets better and better”.
About 50% of those invited this year are new to Chowdafest and joined by those chefs & restaurants who have already distinguished themselves in prior years. “I call it the hunt for next October,” said Keenan as he explained the annual event is usually held on the first Sunday in October. The hunt includes those who have won local events or received great press but he puts an emphasis on word of mouth Keenan says. “When we hear people tell us about great restaurants, we listen. Foodies know what they are talking about. It’s why Chowdafest is a true people’s choice event and why they determine our winners. We don’t have celebrities or trained pallets determining who is best. It’s people who love chowder and soup, just like you and me."
Keenan’s search covers all six New England states but 80% of the competition he says comes from Connecticut. “Connecticut is spoiled” said Keenan amusingly. “So many great chefs call it home." The incredible concentration of culinary talent in Connecticut lead this annual event being held at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport. People travel from all over the country to Connecticut to determine the best chowder, soup & bisque in New England. Chowdafest has made Connecticut the chowder capital of New England. To reinforce this distinction, the state includes a Chowdafest Cafe in their Connecticut building at the Big E, the fifth largest state fair in the U.S. Over 1.6 million people visit the building and can purchase a cup of great chowder, soup & bisque, just a small example of what they can try at Chowdafest in October.
This year, restaurants from New Canaan CT (Gates), Danbury (21 Lake Restaurant), Redding (Redding Roadhouse), Georgetown (Milestone), New Hartford (BLT), Old Saybrook (Saybrook Soup & Sandwich Co. and Penny Lane Pub), Ansonia (Crave 102) and Westrook (Braise & Brew) are among towns represented in the New England wide competition for the first time. “You never know where you’ll find a great chowder or soup,” said Keenan. “I think everyone will be more than impressed with this year’s lineup."
Chowdafest is presented by Stop & Shop and sponsored by Cabot Creamery Co-operative, Chabaso Bakery, Chica de Gallo, City Carting, CT Bites, Copp's Island Oysters, Dave’s Planet Pizza, Eight O’Clock Coffee, Even Hotels, Foods of the Vine, Hood Cream, Local Food Rocks, Lowe's, Lucy’s, Michele's Pies, Mi Nina Tortilla, MINI of Fairfield County, Natalie’s Juices, New England Dairy Council, People’s United Bank, Polar Beverages, PKF O’Connor Davies, Silly Cow Farms, Tetley Tea, Toast, Wades Dairy, WEBE 108 and Westminster Crackers.