Has there ever been such a day for a chowder festival? Sunday, October 5 was a perfect ten of sunshine and cool breezes in the perfect boat to table setting of City Pier 3. Record crowds arrived to enjoy the clam chowder, seafood chowder, stuffed quahogs, kale soup and signature soups. Outside the busy main tent, they also enjoyed musical entertainment. The MRL Trio performed all afternoon to an enthusiastic audience with plenty of applause. MRL is Butch McCarthy, Chris Richards and Dori Rubbicco Legge, all local favorites. Percussionist Dan Schwartz also joined the performance. New this year, DJ Ensemble Events entertained between sets and provided a photo booth.The New Bedford YMCA held their popular and entertaining lobster races. Food and drink included local beers and Travessia wines, soft drinks and mixed drinks by The Cocktail Guru. Café Arpeggio offered coffee, cookies, sandwiches and homemade ice cream. For kids there were antique fire truck rides, craft activities organized by volunteers from the New Bedford Ocean Explorium, Buttonwood Park Zoo and face painting by the Global Charter School.
Twenty three restaurants, health care facilities and caterers competed in a friendly fashion for awards in six categories, best clam chowder, seafood chowder, kale soup, signature soup, stuffed quahog and table presentation. Favorites are chosen by judges in a blind taste test and customers by ballot. Each participant can enter in as many categories as they wish. The most popular category is clam chowder, with nearly half of the participants entering.
First time participant The Black Whale Seafood and Raw Bar, newly opened this summer right on Pier 3, entered only in the clam chowder category and picked up the first place trophy from the judges and the people. It is most unusual for one entrant to win in both categories, especially a newly opened first time participant.
SouthCoast Health entered in every category except kale soup, handed out over 3,000 samples, and won as follows: First place, table presentation; first place, Judges’ seafood chowder, 2nd place people’s seafood as well; third place, signature soup both judges and people’s and first place, people’s choice for stuffed quahogs. That’s seven trips to the awards presentation table.
Rounding out other first place winners: Freestones City Grill, a perennial award winner, was the first place people’s choice winner in the seafood chowder category for its fish chowder, third place from the judges. Joe Costa, Freestone’s Manager, handed out about 1,000 portions of this well known recipe and gave each taker a short history of the recipe, 35 years old and still made the same way it always has been. Brookdale received the Judges’ first place award for both Kale Soup and stuffed quahogs. Autumn Glen of Dartmouth took the People’s Choice first place award for its kale soup, second place from the judges. Olive Garden picked up the first place people’s award for its signature soup Zuppa Toscana, second place from the judges.
The remaining awards are:
- Clam Chowder, 2nd place, Me & Eds, both judges and peoples.
- Seafood Chowder, 2nd place judges, Russell Morin Fine Catering; 3rd place, Cotali Mar, people’s choice
- Kale Soup, 2nd place People’s Choice, Cotali Mar, 3rd place, both judges and people, Tia Maria European Café
- Signature Soup, 2nd place, People’s Choice, All Friends Catering
- Stuffed Quahogs, All Friends Catering, 2nd place judges, 3rd place peoples. Whaling City Diner, 2nd place judges, 3rd place people’s
- Table Presentation, 2nd place, All Friends Catering; 3rd place Tipsy Toboggan
Customers, participants and vendors alike reported success. A local woman brought friends from Easton and couldn’t find enough good things to say about the event. “New Bedford is the new Boston,” she said. She had brought her friends to the Working Waterfront Festival on the prior weekend and said, “New Bedford festivals should be on the waterfront.”
A very likely record breaking amount of food was served. Chef Jeff’s, a first time participant, reported a day long line. “We never took a breather,” they said. Mike’s served 24 gallons of chowder, about 1,750 people and went back to the restaurant twice to resupply. Cotali Mar served 35 gallons of soup. Horta’s served “as many as came through the gate.” SouthCoast served 36 gallons of soup and 15 trays of stuffed quahogs. That’s an enormous amount of food.
Outside the main tent, vendors reported success. “It was a good day,” said Suk Gould of Café Arpeggio. At the end of the day her plates of cookies were empty and the ice cream was running out. Wicked Good Kettle Corn was a popular addition with a long, long line throughout the event.
Speaking briefly Mayor Jon Mitchell noted the record breaking crowd and said, “Support downtown. The wind is at our backs. Everything is coming together.” He said there are very good things ahead in the next couple of years.
Kevin Pelland, co-chair of the event, concluded the day with thanks to all of the participants, volunteers and sponsors.
An event like this cannot happen without many hands giving time and money, often both. We will soon be starting on next year. We have already ordered repeat weather.
Thank you to all the volunteers in red shirts who make the event run smoothly from set up until the last crumb has been swept from the floor.
Thank you to the Chowder Festival Planning Committee
Richard Poyant-Chairman of the Event, Poyant Signs, Inc.; Kevin T. Pelland-Co-Chairman - BayCoast Bank; Casey Cole-Vieira-Law Office of Joseph Michaud; Ben Couto–Reynolds DeWalt; Dawn Ferreira - First Citizens' Federal Credit Union; Modesta Levesque - The Standard-Times; David Medeiros - Bristol County Savings Bank; Tara Pacheco - YMCA SouthCoast; Jill White - Sylvia & Company Insurance Agency; Diane Arsenault - DNB, Inc. Executive Director; Marianne Conley Hodgson - DNB, Inc. Administrative Assistant; Sally Spooner – Staff Photographer
Thank you to the following sponsors who have made this event possible:
- ORGANIZERS – Downtown New Bedford, Inc.
- TITLE SPONSOR – BayCoast Bank
- GOLD SPONSORS - Aarsheim Fishing Corporation, Claremont Corporation, CliftonLarsonAllen CPA's, SouthCoast Media Group, NSTAR
- SILVER SPONSORS - Bristol Community College; Bristol County Savings Bank; Dias, Lapalme & Martin LLP; Eastern Fisheries; First Citizen’s Federal Credit Union; Greater New Bedford Community Health Center; Hunter and Kathryn Marie Scalloping Co.; Sylvia & Company Insurance Agency; Rockland Trust; Roland's Tire Service, Inc.
- ASSOCIATE SPONSOR: Debross Hathaway Marvel, Inc.; Sea Fuels Marine Services; Saint Anne Credit Union
- SERVICE SPONSORS: Buttonwood Park Zoo/ Ocean Explorium; City of New Bedford/Harbor; Development Commission; NB Global Learning Charter School; New Bedford Fire Museum; Poyant Signs,Inc.; Reynolds DeWalt; Sheriff Thomas Hodgson; STAT Ambulance
By Sally Spooner
- In our world of texting and cell phones, it’s reassuring that word of mouth is still a powerful form of communication. That’s one of the reasons Freestones and SouthCoast are winners. Joe Costa at Freestones gave almost every person who took a sample of fish chowder a brief history of the recipe and then asked for their vote. That’s grass roots politics at its best. The enthusiasm of the SouthCoast workers is contagious as they work the tent with their trays of goods, offering samples and asking for votes.
- We have the nicest people. It was a day of long lines, and yet there were few complaints. The vendors, who worked non-stop, didn’t complain either. The volunteers know how to make this a very smoothly run event.
- We have really good kids and young people. If you want reassurance about the future, watch the kids who are painting faces and helping children with crafts. They are truly engaged in what they are doing while at the same time learning about volunteering and participating in the community. That bodes well for them and for us.
- Downtown restaurants are here to stay, and they show our progress. We always had lunch spots, but in the past there were times when the dinner choices were sparse. Freestones, here for 35 years through all kinds of economies and many changes in downtown parking, sometimes didn’t have much company. Now it’s different. Diners have good choices, enough to make downtown a repeat dining destination.
- Our downtown restaurants were well represented at the Chowder Festival. The Black Whale on Pier 3 which opened just this summer was the first place clam chowder winner in both the judges’ and people’s minds. Tia Maria’s European Café, judges’ first place winner in signature soup and third in kale soup, was an instant hit when it opened. Whaling City Dinner, second place in the people’s minds and third in the peoples’ for stuffed quahogs is a favorite lunch spot.
- It is exciting that All Friends Catering and Barbecue, with award winning stuffed quahogs and signature soup, is opening its restaurant, All Friends Smokehouse, later this month.
- There are places, not too far from here, where people don’t know what a quahog is, never mind a stuffed one. Nor do they know about clam boil stew or even linguica. It’s nice to have local foods. Kale has now been universally discovered. We knew about it all along.