Tasty morsels were a-brewin’ in colossal cauldrons at Santa Cruz’s 32nd annual Clam Chowder Cook-Off & Festival. Thousands of visitors made their way to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk last weekend to purchase tasting kits and ballots, partaking in the tradition of having some fun in the sun while promoting local charity.
“We do this every year,” said Anne Rambaugh, co-manager of a booth with the Santa Cruz Kids organization. “It’s always fun and the kids love it.”
The cook-off is a fundraiser for the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department and it amassed nearly $60,000 last year, according to its organizers. With round-trip tickets, cash awards and the grand prize of admittance to the 2013 World Food Championships in Las Vegas on the table, many of the participants were in it to win it.
“We came in close second last year and that’s not good enough. We’re gunning for number one,” said Tim Bowers of team Wine with Swine.
Bowers’ team won the People’s Choice award in last year’s Santa Cruz Chili Cook-Off, and based on the feedback they received, the team worked new spices into their chowder recipe — a move they hoped would propel them to the top. As a troupe that competes upwards of eight times a year around the nation, Wine with Swine does professional culinary events like these for a living.
“The Boardwalk’s our favorite,” Bowers said. “People are starting to recognize us and it feels good to showcase what you love most — cooking.”
The competition was split into four categories: Manhattan and Boston style chowders, in both individual and professional divisions. Several other categories were eligible for acknowledgment, like “Most Original” and “People’s Choice.” With individuality abounding from contestant’s costumes to booth design, the judges were hard pressed for a decision.
Many prominent members of the community, including Mayor Hilary Bryant and City Councilman Ryan Coonerty were chosen to be judges. They underwent hours of blind tasting, basing their decisions upon consistency, flavor, color, as well as each soup’s overall coherency.
Brigid Fuller, six-year publicist for the boardwalk and UCSC alumna, said the criteria for finding judges was high.
“[Judges] are leaders involved in the community and they take its victories seriously.”