By Tim McCarthy
Five chefs entered, but only two walked away as champions in a boiling-hot competition at the Winnekenni Foundation's fourth annual Chowderfest.
More than 800 people from Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire took part in the Merrimack Valley's premier chowder competition on Aug. 14 at Winnekenni Castle.
"We had a full hill all day long," said Grace Marcoux, president of the Winnekenni Foundation that sponsors events on the castle on the hill overlooking Kenoza Lake. "Outside of Halloween, it's our biggest draw."
Visitors took part sampling chowders from five local restaurants and chowder chefs including: The Peddler's Daughter, Boston Chowda Co., Keon's, Scovotti's Catering and a mystery chef who wanted to remain anonymous.
The Peddler's Daughter walked away with the Judge's Choice award. The restaurant was selected by five mystery judges for its specialty chowder. Boston Chowda Co. took awards for best clam chowder and specialty chowders in the people's choice category for their standard chowder and lobster bisque.
Robert Will, executive chef for The Peddler's Daughter, was caught off guard by his victory at Chowderfest, especially after taking over the restaurant's kitchen only a month earlier.
"It was a bit of a surprise," he said. "It was nice to see the locals turn out to support us."
Alongside bar manager Jennifer Lightfoot, Will served cup after cup of their specialty, which combines their house roast bacon with their traditional chowder ingredients.
"It's not a complicated dish, but it's easy to mess up," Will said.
Michael Lamattina of Boston Chowder Co. said he was humbled by winning both people's choice categories for the second year in a row.
"Having that recognition within the competition was awesome for us," he said. "We try our hardest to put out the best chowder we can."
at the end of the afternoon, Lamattina said Boston Chowda Co. had gone through 50 gallons of chowder.
Three time people's choice winners Oliva's/Kruger Flatbread restaurants didn't take part in the formal competition, but did assist the event as a sponsor. Stephen Petrou, owner of Kruger Flatbread, said he had to sit out this year's competition for medical reasons, but planned to return with a vengeance in 2012.
"I want to do it again next year," he said. "We're going to be back."
Despite rainy weather later in the afternoon, a throng of people stayed until the very end to see who would be crowned the champions.
"We had many people around for the awards," Marcoux said.
Besides food, Chowderfest attendees enjoyed music from The Itchy Feet Band and The B Street Bombers alongside. The event also featured children's activities such as a bouncy castle and Dr. Goose bubble-blowing creations.