Chowder Chowdown – Ocean Wise spoons await
UPDATED: Nov 16, 2014
Chowder Chowdown goes this Wednesday… Full details here
Read about last year’s event:
When the dust settled at this year’s Vancouver Aquarium Chowder Chowdown, the undeniable big news of the night was that Forage chef Chris Whitaker successfully defended his championship title with a repeat of last year’s superb winning creamy spot prawn and chicharon chowder. Yew’s Ned Bell’s ‘The Big Red’ proved the popular fave, garnering the People’s Choice award. But that was not the point.
The real, much larger winner is the Ocean Wise program, and the reality that—in only a few short years—it’s spawned a generation of believers from within the culinary community and well beyond. These days there is no excuse to order any seafood (such as most commercially raised tiger prawns) off a local menu that’s not sustainable, given the proliferation of the Ocean Wise logo and its broad recognition.
I remember standing in C restaurant, back in 2005, at the program’s launch, listening to then-C executive chef Robert Clark, along with folks from the aquarium and the Suzuki Foundation. I thought how admirable it was that it got off the ground but at the same marveled at the delicious irony that the aquarium should be espousing what was essentially a seafood eating program. Well, that’s where my obviously still environmentally naive mind went at the time.
We’ve all come a long way since then—at least many of us have—thanks in great part to the efforts of projects such as Ocean Wise, to at least partially comprehend the direct connection between the health of our oceans and our own need for nourishment. Plus, I’d suggest that most, if not all, of the few hundred on hand to sample the 13 chowders have also made that connection.
It was also refreshing to see such creativity across so wide a spectrum of styles and kitchens at this hotly contested event that’s developed a serious cachet. Some 35 chefs and restos submitted recipes, from which the final 13 were chosen: That also speaks to the calibre of competition. This particular field boasted entries from restaurants large and small, independents and hotels, with an Okanagan contender (Brodo Kitchen, tied for second place) and institutional giant Sodexa Canada, which includes among its clientele St Paul’s Hospital.
However, no matter how many events such as this take place across the country (Chowder Chowdown has recently expanded to Calgary and Toronto), it remains that many of the species that we today take for granted as sustainable may not be so in a few years, unless governments everywhere address the vital need to strengthen our ocean protection programs, not weaken them. Yes, I’m looking at you, Canada.
The appeal of Chowder Chowdown (aside from its unique aquarium setting) lies in the range of dishes offered and depth of creativity, from the Vancouver Aquarium’s own white bean chowder with little neck clams and chorizo, and Brodo Kitchen’s / Codfather’s “outlandish mussels and saffron chowder”, to August Jack’s’ (Kitsilano) smoked oyster and Chanterelle chowder, and Cascade Room’s Dungeness crab, Ling cod and smoked bacon chowder.
Indeed, if there was a recurring theme to this year it was the use of Dungeness crab (which popped up, usually with corn, ‘New England’ style in at least five entries). Dungeness is eminently sustainable and widely available for much of the year, as is Ling cod, which seems to be gaining in popularity. Also of note: the emergence of humpback shrimp, ably employed by Yew’s Ned Bell in his fruit and nut adorned pink peppercorn cream offering.
Added bonus: a selection of decent BC (often craft and nano) brews to go along, and occasionally very well matched, as in the winning pairing of Brodo/Codfather’s and Red Racer ESB.
Included on our judging panel of industry pros was Robert Clark, who as co-founder was instrumental in driving the genesis of Ocean Wise, when executive chef at C. Very soon (in early December) he’ll unveil his specialty sustainable seafood retail store and diner, the Fish Counter, right next door to Portland Craft, at Main and 22nd. Clark is adamant: he will not pander to demand for local species not in season but available from elsewhere, such as Russian sockeye, which this year is again expected to flood the market. (More on Fish Counter soon…)
I’m thrilled Chowder Chowdown has been so well received in Toronto and Calgary. Kudos to the Vancouver Aquarium for making it happen. Maybe we’ll soon see a cross Canada Chowder Chowdown with a national cook-off.
More to the point, though, in the absence of a widely championed, iconic ‘BC’ west coast dish, it’s time we formally embraced the success of Seafood Chowder—any style of chowder (regardless of inspiration that flows from the U.S east coast or Thailand’s west. And made it our own. On the proviso its ingredients are local and sustainable, of course.
All we need is a name (Farrago, maybe?) … and a proclamation.