Last week, the Vancouver Aquarium hosted their annual Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown competition where it coincides with Ocean Wise month in November. The event was open to the public to come and taste chowders crafted from sustainable seafood from 14 Vancouver area restaurants, as well as suggested beer pairings from 14 breweries. The list of participating contestants was as follows:
- ARC at the Fairmont Waterfront – Chef Alessandro Vianello
- Bao Down – Chef Greg Edwards
- Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar – Chef Roger Ma
- Prestons Restaurant + Lounge – Chef Shelley Robinson
- Codfathers – Chef Ross Derrick
- Earls Test Kitchen – Chef David Wong
- Fetch Restaurant at the Black Rock Resort – Chef Ceri Wackett
- Fukasaku of Prince Rupert – Chef Daisuke Fukasaku
- Glowbal – Chef Ryan Gauthier
- Hart House Restaurant – Chef Mike Genest
- Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts – Chef Ben Kiely
- Mosaic Grill at Hyatt Regency Vancouver
- Showcase Restaurant at the Downtown Marriott – Chef Frank Gort
- Vancouver Aquarium – Chef Melissa Blomly, Chef Natasha Blomly, Chef Tim Bedford
This year’s winner, voted unanimously by judges, was Chef Roger Ma of Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar for his lobster miso chowder. Chef Alessandro Vianello of ARC at the Fairmont Waterfront took home the audience’s choice for his cedar smoked Ocean Wise sablefish chowder, while the best beer pairing was won by Chef Shelley Robinson of Prestons Restaurant.
Personally, my favorite was “dark horse” candidate Fukasaku of Prince Rupert, a chef with no formal culinary training with a Japanese restaurant serving an entirely Ocean Wise menu in Prince Rupert. Featuring a strong umami taste from the kelp and a deliciously cooked sidestripe shrimp, it brought a uniquely light flavor to contrast with a host of very heavy (and heavily seasoned) broths.
As this was my first time at the event, I didn’t know what quite to expect. It was a great atmosphere mingling in lines and moving from section to section in the aquarium, tasting all the various chowders to the backdrop of beautifully illuminated aquatic animals. As well, all of the 14 chowders were excellently prepared, and presented enough of a difference in flavor between them to keep it interesting up until the 14th bowl.
Proceeds from the event were given to Ocean Wise, which is a Vancouver Aquarium conservation program created to educate and empower consumers about issues surrounding sustainable seafood. Environmental issues surrounding poor choices in seafood consumption include overfishing, bycatch and habitat destruction. Choosing seafood with the Ocean Wise stamp is an assurance that it is a good choice for keeping ocean life healthy and abundant for generations to come.