Friday, November 27, 2009

Ocean Wise Seafood Chowder ChowDown

Event: 2nd Annual Ocean Wise Seafood Chowder ChowDown
Topic: Seafood Chowder
Date: November 25, 09
Area: Vancouver, BC (Stanley Park)
Vancouver Aquarium
Tickets: $35

I attended the 2nd Annual Ocean Wise Seafood Chowder ChowDown as "Follow Me Foodie" I'm going to focus on the food and briefly discuss my experience.

The event was held at the Vancouver Aquarium where 10 chefs from Vancouver's high-end restaurants battled for the title of "BC Ocean Wise Seafood Chowder Champion 2009". They had 10 stations set-up, each station representing a different restaurant, and people would line-up to sample about half a cup of seafood chowder.

Ocean Wise is a non-profit organization that partners with Vancouver Aquarium to encourage restaurants and the community to support sustainable, environmental friendly seafood choices and practices. Chances are you have probably seen the "Ocean Wise" logo at some point or another.

All utensils and bowls were bio-degradable which suited the theme. However I think everyone should have put down a $2 deposit for a metal spoon upon entrance and just used that for the whole night. At the end people could have returned the spoon and gotten their deposit back or opt to donate it to Ocean Wise. I tried using my one biodegradable spoon the whole night, but I kept forgetting and tossing it with my a lot of spoons were wasted.

Overall I enjoyed the event...this year they actually had beer pairings for every chowder...I'm not familiar with beer though so I'm going to leave that part to the experts. The part I am familiar with is the chowder...I had 13 bowls at the end of the night. I repeated 3 because I wanted to compare them more. I'm serious about food. So let's get started!

Participating restaurants: C Restaurant, Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA), Whistler Blackcomb, Provence Marinaside, ZEN Japanese Restaurant, The Refinery, Vancouver Aquarium Catering, O'doul's, COAST Restaurant & Go-Fish.

Chef Matthew Christie from Go-Fish pan frying the biggest scallops I've ever seen for judge's tasting.

The Official 2009 1st place winner: Go-Fish (plating for the judges tasting)

Official 2009 Winners:
  • People's Choice: O'Douls
  • 1st Place: Go-Fish
  • 2nd Place: The Refinery
  • 3rd Place: COAST Restaurant
Follow Me Foodie Winners aka my personal choice:

  • 1st Place: O'Douls (on the right)
  • 2nd Place: Whistler Blackcomb (on the left)
  • 3rd Place: The Refinery
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

**My following ratings represent the seafood chowder served this evening and not the actual restaurant/chef/regular menu.

On the table:Chef Wesley Young cooking the ingredients and the chowder broth separately.

A spoonful of the ingredient first, and then tops it off with the chowder broth.
  • C Restaurant 4.5/6
    • Chef Wesley Young
    • Shellfish New England Chowder - the sign said "Manhattan", but it was a mistake.
    • Some ingredients include: scallops, back bacon, celery, carrot, onions, clams etc.
    • Most attention to detail...very representable of C Restaurant.
    • All the ingredients were diced to the same size.
    • Juicy salty pork bits and the vegetable were perfectly tender.
    • Thinner texture
    • Nothing out of the ordinary, but simple and well executed.
    • Chef cooked the ingredients and the chowder broth separately in different pots. He lightly sauteed the ingredients in one and cooked the seafood broth in the other. Therefore the seafood, veggie and meat flavours didn't blend into the broth. It's a good method because he can control the temperature and everything is cooked perfectly. It's a bad method because the broth is just a cream broth with no seafood taste.
  • Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA) 2/6
    • Student chef: Sarai De Zela Pardo
    • Colypso Chowder
    • The creator is a student, so I don't want to be mean...but it wasn't great. She tried doing something different, and she did, but it just didn't work out that well.
    • Some ingredients include: sweet potato, stuffed mussels, tomato, garlic, Sablefish, back bacon, oregano etc. Served with a spot prawn fritter.
    • The base was a sweet potato puree which made the chowder too sweet. Most sweet.
    • It was a bit smoky and surprisingly a thinner texture even though she used sweet potatoes.
    • I felt like it banked on the plump juicy mussel and BC spot prawn fritter...which were both good.
    • The fritter tastes like a lightly breaded and deep fried corn muffin made with lots of cornmeal and sweet corn kernels stuffed with a spot prawn. It was good! Perhaps better then the chowder.
    • The bacon was a back bacon, and it was better at C Restaurant.
    • Back bacon is more like ham than that crispy bacon.
    • Executive chef Randy Jones from Whistler Blackcomb preparing his chowder

  • Whistler Blackcomb 5.5/6
    • Executive Chef Randy Jones
    • Wild Chinook and Indian Candy Salmon Chowder with Honey Lager Mussels
    • Some ingredients include: Salmon, lemon, thyme, local honey, mussels, honey lager, Pemberton potatoes etc.
    • I really liked this one. It tasted very "Canadian" if I can say.
    • I would call it a salmon chowder, it was definitely the most fishy tasting out of all the chowders.
    • It was savoury and sweet with nice pieces of salmon throughout. The salmon pieces tasted like candied smoked salmon - it almost had a maple syrup taste to it. It was tangy too, almost like there was sour cream in it.
    • The mussels were steamed in honey lager and you could taste that slight sweetness which was beautiful.
    • It was nice and thick because the chowder was thickened with pureed Pemberton potatoes. There were also chunks of potato throughout. It was very rich in flavour and texture.
  • Provence Marinaside 2.5/6
    • Sous Chef Jasen Gauthier
    • Sablefish Chowder
    • Some ingredients include: Sablefish, mussels, clams, potatoes, pancetta, fennel etc.
    • If you go to Southern France this is what you find. It reminded me of a Bouillabaisse but lighter and more delicate in flavour. Rather than saffron it had a licorice taste. This was a seafood chowder for adults.
    • The seafood was cooked throughout the broth and all the ingredients were very well balanced although the fennel and fresh parsley really stood out.
    • It was very French.
    • Too many potato chunks though and the "pancetta" (wasn't really pancetta but this French style bacon that resembles pancetta) was too fatty.
Zen Japanese Restaurant's seafood chowder for the judge's tasting.
  • ZEN Japanese Restaurant 1.5/6
    • Executive Chef Nobu Ochi
    • BC Spot Prawn Southern Style Seafood Chowder with Toasted Rice Croutons.
    • It wouldn't have been a 1.5/6 if they didn't burn it. You could smell the burning and the chowder just tasted burnt's really sad because there was potential.
    • Some ingredients include: BC spot prawns, Lingcod, BC mussels, scallops, carrot, potato, onions etc.
    • This was more of a bisque than it was a chowder. It was the thickest and creamiest of all the chowders. I think they put barbecue sauce or maple syrup in it because there was a hickory sweet taste and the flavour was that bold. It was hard to tell because the burnt taste was really distracting.
    • There were big chunks of really soft carrot and potato throughout. I think some of the seafood and potato were pureed to made the chowder base. Very thick and rich with a lot of cream. It was sweet too.
    • The "toasted rice crouton" was a rice ball that was lightly toasted. I liked breaking it up into the soup...the sample was basically a meal...really filling.
  • The Refinery 5/6 (Official 3rd place)
    • Executive Chef Michael Carter
    • Smoked Cod and Crab Chowder
    • Some ingredients include: dungeness crab, smoked cod, corn, coconut cream, red hot chillies, lemongrass etc.
    • If Thai people made seafood chowders...this is what it would taste like. Thai-style seafood chowder.
    • It stood out the most for sure. It was definitely the spiciest of all. It tasted like Tom Yum soup made into a chowder.
    • It was full of corn and dungeness crab and topped with red hot chillies and cilantro.
    • It was the only chowder that had zero potatoes, and instead they used coconut cream to thicken it.
    • The lemongrass really stood out too. It was a very South East Asian style chowder.
    • It had quite a kick though and I love spicy so I could handle it. However I couldn't taste anything afterward for at least 15min. until the spicy wore off and my taste buds went back to normal. It was too spicy for a lot of people. I liked it though!
  • Vancouver Aquarium Catering and Events 2/6
    • Sous Chef Myke Shaw
    • Spicy Corn and Crab Chowder
    • This had the disadvantage of being set up across from The Refinery. After trying The Refinery chowder, which was very spicy, you couldn't taste the spicy corn and crab chowder. The Refinery table was before you got to the Vancouver Aquarium it was unfair.
    • On the other hand they were giving out full bowls of chowder rather than half cups, and because it was so hearty some people got sick of it...a lot of us did. So that was on them.
    • Some ingredients include: 3 types of potato: Pemberton, Yellow Butter potatoes from Langley, Russet, 2 types of corn: purple and peaches and cream. roasted Poblano peppers etc.
    • They tried really hard with this chowder...but it didn't show through. I only know because I asked otherwise you couldn't tell how unique and varied the ingredients were. I didn't eat it thinking "ooohh yeah these potatoes are from Langley".
    • I actually don't remember much seafood being in there, but I do remember lots of corn and potatoes. Too many and too big potato chunks that made it too hearty.
    • This was basically mom's really good clam chowder - the most traditional of the chowders.
    • There was a slight kick, but honestly after The Refinery, I could barely taste the kick.
  • O'Douls 6/6 (People's Choice)
    • Executive Chef Chris Whittaker
    • People's Choice and my favourite.
    • Smoked Qualicum Bay scallop and House Cured Sloping Hill Farms Pork Belly Chowder. The garnish was fresh homemade Yukon gold potato chips.
    • Some ingredients include: scallops, pork belly, potato, carrots, organic celery root etc.
    • Nothing fancy, just good...and I LOVE fancy and this says a lot about their chowder. The flavour is what stood out and I think the use of pork belly is what won the people over...also those Yukon Gold potato chips were a fantastic garnish!
    • It was sweet, smoky, tangy and savoury. All the components were there. Very well rounded in flavour.
    • Women, men, epicureans, foodies, kids, old and young would like it.
    • It had the most tang or acidic notes, but it was by no means overpowering. The tang came from the champagne vinegar they used.
    • It was thick and the 2nd creamiest chowder for me.
    • It was very chunky and the pork belly was the best use of pork. It was the saltiest and the most flavourful bacon. I really think this is was drew people in.
    • I also loved the potatoes in it. It was chunks of Yukon Gold potatoes that melted in your mouth. Creamiest potatoes that night.
  • COAST Restaurant 3.5/6 (Official 3rd place)
    • Executive Chef Josh Wolfe
    • BC Sea Urchin and Smoked Pacific Oyster Chowder
    • Some ingredients include: Clams, sea urchin, potato, smoked oysters etc.
    • Most experimental. Creative? Definitely! But not a real I didn't think it was that fair that they won.
    • This is in a different category of it's own.
    • It was the thinnest chowder for sure. Thin as milk. They actually blended it up in a blender before serving it. It was more like a seafood cappuccino. It had a frothy layer.
    • No flour was used. A real definition of a chowder has flour. To get the thickness they boiled potatoes just to get the starch out of them and then they tossed the potatoes. Yes, the wastage bothers me...
    • They got the saltiness and the rest of the thickness from the sea urchin. They blended them right into the broth.
    • It would have been great as an appetizer and I really think they should have served it in shot glasses...that would have been perfect.
    • It was served with a little piece of Chef's Creek oysters that was smoked for 4 hours.
    • You could definitely taste the sea urchin because these are salty little guys.
    • It was still rich in flavour, but just not thick.
    • It left a filmy texture in my mouth, it's the only chowder that did that.
  • Go-Fish 4/6 (Official 1st place)
    • Chef Matt & Andrew Christie
    • Smoked Corn and Scallop Chowder
    • Some ingredients include: corn, scallops, parsnip, bacon, celeriac seed, fingerling potatoes etc.
    • I called this "Chilliwack's interpretation of Seafood Chowder"....but maybe I was partly influenced by the chef's look?...My other reason is because use of corn stood out the most. They actually used the corn off the cob and you could really tell. The kernels were biggest and sweetest. This chowder was loaded with corn.
    • My 2nd favourite use of potatoes. They're good because they're really tender and the skin just pops away from the potato...both are really good! These potatoes have the best skin - nice and thin.
    • It was very chunky and the chowder broth was creamy, but not thick. It was on the thinner side similar to Restaurant.
    • It had the longest line-up, but the chefs were also the most entertaining/energetic...they were having the most fun which is great.


  1. Wow! This post is great!

    I was aware of this event but had some other plans. So thanks for showing us what happened! The question is now whether they will put these chowders in the menu...

  2. Thanks Kim!

    I talked to a couple restaurants and I don't think they are going to put them on their official menus...I know O'Douls already has a chowder on their menu that is similar to the one they entered in the chowdown...everyone was requesting them to put it on their menu...with demand, there should be supply!

  3. All of these look so good! Those scallops from Go Fish are huge; I thought I had seen the biggest scallops ever recently at a restaurant in LA, but these are much bigger and they look perfectly cooked. The bowl from Whistler Blackcomb looks very good, and based on your pics and write-up, I'd probably go with that one. Very nice review.

  4. I know! I bet these scallops won the judges over! They did look delicious.

    I really liked the Whistler Blackhome one too, but if you don't like salmon or thick chowders then you wouldn't like it. I thought it was delicious!

  5. Looks like you had a good time! :)