David Castillo stirs a large pot of vegetarian chowder at the Clifford Farms booth during the 34th annual Santa Cruz Clam Chowder Cook-Off and Festival at the Boardwalk on Saturday. (Kevin Johnson — Santa Cruz Sentinel)
By Calvin Men, Santa Cruz Sentinel
SANTA CRUZ >> Ian Fiddes said he wanted to get a taste of the competitive food circuit when he decided to enter the clam chowder cook-off at the Boardwalk.
Fiddes, 28, is a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz and broke the craft down into a science, choosing to use less flour and add Worcester sauce and lemon zest, adding a little bit of acidity to an otherwise rich flavor.
“I’ve been interested in entering this competition for years,” Fiddes said. “The clam chowder cook-off is the perfect way to get into the scene.”
In its 34th year, the annual Santa Cruz Clam Chowder Cook-Off and Festival drew 80 teams — 48 amateur and 32 professional — to compete for the titles of the best. The event garnered much interest as visitors were packed into the walkways of the boardwalk while they lined up to get a taste of each recipe.
Karley Pope, director of promotions and entertainment at the Boardwalk, said the event drives traffic during an offseason day and isn’t dependent on the weather.
Check-in began at 8 a.m. with preparation starting two hours later. Some teams arrived as early as 6:15 a.m. As much as the event is about the chowder, many of the competitors went the extra mile with decorative booths and themes to attract tasters, Pope said.
For other competitors, it’s a bit of a family tradition. Pope added it’s somewhat like a family reunion for some teams.
Todd Rumbaugh, a cook with Manhattan Madhatter’s, competed against his son’s team, Santa Cruz Kid’s Chowder. Kind of.
“We’re doing the stirring and the hot stuff but then they’re mixing all the ingredients and serving,” he said.
Rumbaugh admitted his son’s team is likely doing better, partially because of their chowder and partially because they were cute kids.
For hungry visitors, the day was full of samples. Tasters paid $9 for a simple kit with five tasting tickets, cups and spoons.
Dan Aruiza works alongside other cooks at the Mother Shuckers booth during the 34th annual Santa Cruz Clam Chowder Cook-Off and Festival at the Boardwalk on Saturday. (Kevin Johnson — Santa Cruz Sentinel)
Jessica Alamo, 21, stood by while Andres Alamo, 23, vigorously scraped the bottom of a tasting cup.
“I like clam chowder a lot,” Andres Alamo said. “We go to a lot of places around here for chowder.”
Andres Alamo said a good chowder has a creamy texture with the right flavor. The duo sampled a chowder from a booth that advertised organic chowder, which, while healthier, didn’t have enough butter, they said. Another booth boasted bacon in its recipe but the concoction tasted and smelled more like ham soup, Andres Alamo said.
Neal Thorpe, 35, and Malyn Acol, 32, watched chefs pour the chowder before deciding whether to sample. Both were looking for a thick texture and chunky ingredients as signs of a good chowder. Many booths matched the criteria as the duo’s tasting kit of 10 was done in a matter of 30 minutes.
“We’re probably going to get another (tasting) kit,” Acol said.
Santa Cruz Clam Chowder Cook-Off and Festival
Best professional Boston: First, Pleasure Pizza Eastside Eatery; second, Local Harvest Eatery; third Lou Lou’s Griddle In The Middle.
Best professional Manhattan: First, Pleasure Pizza Eastside Eatery; second, Seascape Resort; third, Midgley’s Public House
Best individual Boston: First, Alerts; second, Santa Cruz Kid’s Chowder; third, Onokine
Best individual Manhattan: First, Clam Halen; Second, Wine With Swine; third, Dragon Mama’s Portuguese Red
People’s choice professional Boston: Lou Lou’s Griddle In The Middle
People’s choice professional Manhattan: Pleasure Pizza Eastside Eatery
People’s choice individual Boston: 4 Men & A Clam
People’s choice individual Manhattan: Grandma’s Clam Diggers
Most original team: First, Clam Rocks; second, Cucina Bambini; third, Sir Clamalot
Most tasted: First, Rosie’s Clam & Get It; second, 4 Men & A Clam; third, Silence of the Clams
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