At the first Chowder Chowdown in Toronto, two years ago, Martin Kouprie and his Pangaea Restaurant team walked away as the double champions. Last year, newcomer Shaun Edmonstone (Bruce Wine Bar) and Morgan Wilson (Trios) split the popular and judges' choice awards. This year another rookie entry, Richard Baksh from Earls Kitchen and Bar took the People's Choice prize, while the judges handed their award to Albert Ponzo of Le Select.
The Le Select table stood out and not just because chef Ponzo had an immersion circulator heating a bus tray of sausage to a cozy 145˚F. His chowder, which nicely balanced sweet, salty, and rich, let the seafood flavours shine as the star. I'm not surprised that Chef Baksh and his team of in-uniform Earls servers took home the crowd prize. Their Manilla Clam & Seafood Chowder was a well-seasoned, bold-flavoured, take on the classic New England style. Hapa Izakaya–another first-time appearance–checked a few of the cooking competition boxes with their dashi-powered chowder by having: a remarkably different entry, a crispy garnish and, of course, bacon. Chef Stacey Blois and her team from Western took a night off from cooking for undergrads to bring a decidedly delicious chowder that called on the richness of coconut milk and the subtle heat of Thai red curry paste.
The Chowder Chowdown (also held in Vancouver on the same day) is the Vancouver Aquarium's front-line fundraising event for their Ocean Wise programme. Through their list of species, approved partners, and their symbol on menus they hope to make it easier for Canadians to choose sustainable options for their seafood consumption. Here is the full list of participating chefs, their restaurant, and beer pairing:
- Albert Ponzo of Le Select Bistro paired with Rickard's White (2012 Judge's Choice winner)
- Patrick McMurray, who owns Starfish and Ceili Cottage, paired with Granville Island English Bay Pale Ale
- David Kokai from Loic Gourmet paired with Creemore Springs Kellerbier
- Morgan Wilson (last year's judges' favourite) of Trios Bistro at the Eaton Centre Marriott paired with Granville Island Lions Winter Ale
- Thomas Heitz from Pickering's Port Restaurant paired with Creemore Springs Kellerbier
- Alexandra Gaponovitch of the Calphalon Culinary Centre paired with Creemore Springs Premium Lager
- Stacey Blois from Perth Hall at Western University paired with Rickard's White
- Shaun Edmonstone (the crowd champ in '11) from Bruce Wine Bar in Thornbury, ON paired with Creemore Springs Traditional Pilsner
- Kristin Donovan of Hooked paired with Creemore Springs Traditional urBock
- Richard Baksh of Earls Kitchen and Bar paired with Granville Island English Bay Pale Ale (2012 People's Choice winner)
- Takayuki Sato from Hapa Izakaya paired with Rickard's Blonde
- Amira Becarevic from Epic at the Fairmont Royal York paired with Rickard's Red
A noticeable change this year was that the Molson-Coors brands: Rickards, Creemore, and Granville Island were the presenting sponsors and replaced Mill Street as the event's beverage pairing partner. This move away from craft beer seems like an odd choice, both since it's by far the fastest growing category in beer and because the Ocean Wise mandate of sustainability seems out of step with the giant production of these macro-brewers. Ocean Wise partner Allseas Fisheries Corp. provided the seafood that went into all the chowder.
The judging panel included: Anthony Walsh (O&B), Carl Heinrich (Richmond Station), Rebecca LeHeup (OCTA), Jamie Kennedy (JK Kitchens), and Micah Donovan (The Food Jammers) and was loaded with familiar faces for those who were at past Chowdowns. Donovan's Food Jammers co-star, Nobu Adilman, filled the MC role for the night. Ticket prices for 2012 crept-up to $45 from last year's $40, but considering the diversity and unlimited supply of sustainable seafood chowder options, this still seems like a very good value ticket.
Recap of the 2011 Oceanwise Chowdown.