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Chowderfest draws hungry crowds



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Line Cook Dan Hopkins and Chef Bob Berube serve chowder for the Hill Top Dining Room at Steele Hill. Erin Plummer. (click for larger version)
October 06, 2010
MEREDITH — The smells of chowder and victory permeated the air at Hesky Park during the 23rd annual Chowderfest Sunday.

For a $5 admission charge, chowder lovers gathered to sample and vote on the best chowder served by restaurants from around the Lakes Region. Proceeds will benefit the Lakes Region Conservation Trust.

This year six restaurants participated in Chowderfest, significantly less than previous years. Emcee Pat Kelly said the drop is a "sign of the times," but also reflects the difficulty of making 50 gallons of chowder.

"We really appreciate our participants," Kelly said.

Chowder lovers, however, were in full supply with around 1,200 people coming through the door. Kelly also credited the sunny, crisp weather as a factor that brought people out.

"The weather, the one thing we can't control, fell right in our laps," Kelly said.

Kelly gave his thanks for the restaurant, sponsors, and supporters who helped bring the Chowderfest together.

Christmas Island Resort of Laconia made its Chowderfest debut with a fish chowder made by Chef Tony Roux containing scallops, haddock, clams, crab, and other ingredients that made it a rich, thick chowder.

"We took over as owners of Christmas Island, we want to get our name out there and get people to come in and try it," said Wendy Hanley, who owns Christmas Island with her husband Tom Hanley.

Chef Bob Berube of the Hill Top Dining Room at Steele Hill Resort in Sanbornton cooked up a seafood chowder with ingredients including scallops, lobster, Maryland crab, and others. This was the Hill Top's third year in the competition and they won second place in their previous two years.

"A lot of rave reviews on it," Berube said.

The Weirs Beach Lobster Pound, true to its name, served a lobster corn chowder. Executive Chef Doug Moyer said the chowder took about six hours to make. This was Moyer's first year making chowder for the Lobster Pound, though he has been in the competition with other restaurants around six or seven years.

"I think we got a pretty good start and it's for a good cause," Moyer said.

T-Bones and Cactus Jack's of Laconia served New England clam chowder as well as a vegetarian-friendly corn chowder.

"I just wanted a different option so I went with corn chowder," said General Manager Jason Rathbun.

The chowder took 10 hours to make, starting at the restaurant and then transported to the event.

"Everything's fresh, nothing's ever frozen," Rathbun said. "The amount of cream and butter, that's what makes a good chowder."

The Common Man family of restaurants was represented this year by the Lakehouse Grille of Meredith.

"It's almost like a cross between a bisque and a chowder," said Chef Allen Zick of the Lakehouse Grille's entry.

Each individual serving was topped with chunks of sautéed lobster and chives.

Zick described the competition as a "great experience."

The Lakeside Restaurant has participated for the past two years. This year the restaurant entered a potato, bacon, and cheddar chowder, a recipe that popped into Chef Peter Keigle's head shortly before the competition and made the night before. The chowder ran out near the end of the day, but Keigle and Wendy Anderson whipped up a new batch that was just as rich and flavorful as something that had stewed for hours.

Keigle could name one ingredient that he thought made the chowder the best.

"The cheese that I put in it," he said.

The Monterrey jack cheese, "gives it a little bit more creaminess."

Chowder fans were seen sipping and carefully scooping their small containers of chowder with little spoons.

Greg Janaitis and Heather Clark of Moultonboro came out for the fest. This was Janaitis' sixth year, while Clark was coming for the first time.

Leslie Hanna of Watertown, Mass. And Brynn Barnett of Londonderry were in the area "It's creative, it's good," Barnett said. "You don't find these kinds of chowders very often."

"Everybody has their own spin on them," Hanna said.

In the end, Kelly said the final two were apart by 24 votes and a recount had to be done.

Ultimately Christmas Island came out the winners.

"I put a lot of time and effort into it," Roux said. "You put a lot of hard work into it and you're happy to get the dividends."

The restaurant's name will be put on the "Chowder Bowl" trophy.

The Weirs Beach Lobster Pound was the first runner up and the Lakehouse Grille was the second runner up.

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