Summer Traditions May Help Save Seafood
Gas prices eclipsed the $4 a gallon mark nationwide this weekend. But it didn't discourage droves of chowder lovers from exercising their seafood palates at the 27th annual Schweppes Great Chowder Cook-Off at the Newport, R.I., Yachting Center on Saturday. Seafood festivals are a summer tradition, and if the Great Chowder Cook-Off is any indication, escalating gas prices - which are projected to reach $4.50 by the Fourth of July - won't prevent tourists from enjoying their favorite coastal seafood haunts.
"Tourism's still up," said an optimistic Alan Delaney, owner of the Skipper Restaurant & Chowder House in South Yarmouth, Mass., on Cape Cod. "Despite the gloom and doom of the economy, people still need a break."
Delaney represented one of 20 restaurants at Saturday's cook-off. The Dublin, Ireland, native used the event not only to show off his New England clam chowder - which, by the way, was downright delectable - but also to market his 144-seat restaurant.
It worked - attendees, who braved unseasonably high 90-degree temperatures, waited shoulder to shoulder in lines of 25 or more to taste each competitor's chowder.
But even more impressive than the size of crowd was the enthusiasm and spirit I witnessed at the event. Attendees gathered in front of each entry to debate the flavor and ingredients of the chowder they just sampled.
"They were taking notes," quipped Pattie Gaudreau of Blount Clam Shack of Warren, R.I.
Competitors like Bradley Reynolds, sous chef at the Blue Mermaid Chowder House & Bar in San Francisco, were animated, shouting the name and assigned number of their restaurant to attract attendees' attention.
After seven hours of tasting, the winners were unveiled. The Skipper captured the Best Clam Chowder, the Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar in Newport took the Best Seafood Chowder and the Boat House in nearby Tiverton, R.I., had the Best Creative Chowder. Additionally, Harmon's Clam Cakes of Kennebunkport, Maine, won the Best Clam Cake competition.
Even the competitors who didn't win walked away from the event with an upbeat sentiment, confident that soaring gas prices and a lagging economy won't stop tourists from endulging in seafood this summer.