NEAR: Oceanwise Chowder Chowdown!

3 Nov

Toronto isn’t really known for it’s soup, nonetheless it’s chowder. The only two soup places I can think of are Ravi Soups and the Soup Nutzy (off shoot of infamous Seinfeld character and soupery, The Soup Nazi). An aside: the Soup Nutzy’s Lobster bisque is a MUST.  Even moreso, it’s not known for using sustainable seafood in its soups.

So what does THAT mean?  From sponsor Oceanwise:  “Sustainable seafood can be defined as species that are caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem.”

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

Oceanwise came up with a great awareness campaign called Chowder Chowdown that I was lucky enough to be invited to. Ten chefs compete in making their chowder with sustainable seafood at the Fairmont  Royal York Hotel.  Judges (Ivy Knight, Mio Adilman and Micah Donovan from the Food Network’s Food Jammers, Chef Anthony Walsh of Oliver and Bonacini) vote for their favourite chowder. Then participants get to choose their favourite for the People’s choice award.  At $40 for a ticket, this event is one that is of the best value in town (sorry Cheese and Wine show).

The Chefs in all of their glory. Oceanwise Chowder Chowdown event.

I was expecting a fancy catered sit down service. But it wasn’t like that at all. We got to manage our own experience by popping over to the different chefs to taste their creations. Man, there were some diverse recipes! I won’t go through all of the chefs but I will go through some of the highlights.

Trios Restaurant display for their steamed mussels soup

Let’s start with the judge’s winner:  steamed mussels and tomato chowder.    The Chef:  Morgan Wilson of Trios  Restaurant Marriott Toronto Downtown Eaton Centre. We were lucky to start out with this creation and his beer selection (Mill Street Organic) went down smooth with the soup. I did have a second beer (not going to lie!).  This was great but I didn’t choose it because I wanted to try a traditional chowder.

Winning Chef Morgan Wilson with his team from Trios Bistro

The People’s Choice Award went to Bruce Winebar for his juniper smoked whitefish soup.  It was smoky and creamy and everything that would have taken me over to Cape Cod.  It was in a VERY close race with Pangea’s smoked whitefish with corn and fennel (very, very smokey because they smoked the bones and the fish). But what put Bruce in the winning race for me (and others) was their roasted fennel seed and roasted garlic crostini. It was DELISH!  The Mill Street tank house ale served alongside was a good compliment.  I’m kind of wishing I started with this one first! Of course, I didn’t get a photo of the soup because I was too busy inhaling it. Phew! Crostini picture as a consolation prize?

crostini from People's Choice winner Shawn Edmonstone of Bruce Winebar

Pangea's smoked whitefish chowder with corn and fennel (last year's People's Choice and Judge's winner)

One of the highlights for me was meeting Chef Andrea Nicholson Jack of Killer Condiments. You may also know her name from when she was on Top Chef Canada.  She is just as great (even greater) than she is in person and I really liked her thai version of chowder. It was a poached tuna, with prawn and yucca.  NOM!

Andrea Nicholson Jack's poached tuna chowder

A few chefs decided to do an international take on their chowder submissions, including Kristin Donovan of fish store Hooked. She concocted a curried fish chowder with buttered  nan. Yum! Oh, and her outfit matched her pot!

Kristin Donovan of Hooked with her curried chowder. Bonus points for matching her outfit to her pot.

Curried Chowder.

The other creation I was really impressed with was of Epic Restaurant (the restaurant of the Fairmont Royal York).  Tim Palmer cooked up a smoked trout with sunchoke chowder. I was eating the sunchoke out of the bowl! Man, oh man, it was that good! Another really cool thing about the Royal York is that they have their own honey bee emporium on the rooftop of the hotel. Hence our beer selection:  Royal Stinger honey beer. Delicious! Kudos Tim.

Chef Tim Palmer of Epic

My other top chef moment was from C5’s creation: their chowder with Geoduck. I have to admit it was not my favourite but  it was a courageous addition to something so traditional.

C5's Geoduck. Man oh man!

All in all, it was a great night and I hope it raised awareness towards Vancouver Aquarium’s efforts towards sustainable seafood.  I can’t wait to go to it next year and I hope to see you there!

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