I recently read that several of those who signed the Declaration of Independence were caught and hung by the British. Sure, we know the likes of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin all signed but never thought twice that by doing so they put themselves and family in jeopardy. We just assume or at least I did, that they just went on to become famous. Many, many people have given the ultimate measure of their devotion to a better world - not just service men and women but ordinary people as well. So give a moment's pause when you're enjoying these culinary treats of summer and give silence appreciation to those who made it possible and protect our ability to keep enjoying these fun summer days
UPDATE: Well, I experienced a soup & chowder competition from the other side of the table last month. Yours truly, competed in Soupstock organized by friends Fred & Michelle Bialek of Liquid Lunch fame in Shelton. I entered as Chowdafest to promote our event this fall (stay tuned for the official announcement coming soon). So I made 15 gallons of Southwest Corn Chowder. Made it in the kitchen of Liquid Lunch since they're well equipped to make industrial size amounts of food. Got some help from the maestro himself, Fred, who helped me spice the chowder up just right and overall, I was pretty pleased with the outcome.
I hadn't the remotest thought of winning anything - just wanted the awareness for Chowdafest since there's still a "boat" load of people who haven't experienced or even heard of our event. When people started coming up to me for seconds and thirds (more like 8ths and 10ths), and kept telling me how much they loved the chowder and how they voted for me, I started to think "hmmm, maybe I can be in top three or something". This went on for hours, even as the event was extended 90 minutes longer to accommodate the late arriving crowds. There was certainly some stiff competition both amateur and restaurant alike. First there were the defending Macho Taco Boys (I'm pretty sure I'm taking creative license here) with their 2 time defending chicken tortilla soup. There were two other corn chowders, one of which was so rich and creamy that you'd want it to be your last thing you ever ate before your arteries clogged up in culinary cardiac arrest.
Then there was corn chowder from my friends at Old Post Tavern in Fairfield. There's nothing negaitve anyone can say about OPT as their food is always delicious. OPT has placed 2nd in Chowdafest with their New England Clam Chowder so for chef and owner Pat Tennaro, he was looking for another feather in his cap. His entry was as good of a cream corn-type entry that only the worlds best grandmother could only match. For about the first two hours of the competition, people kept tasting my chowder and saying how they like it because it was different. It had a little kick to it but besides the corn and potatoes, it had black beans, cilantro and much more. They would take an extra cup on their way to the voting ballot and say "I'm voting for you Old Post!". I'd obviously correct them saying, "no, no, no, we're Chowdafest" thinking they just noticed the table wrong because Pat & Old Post were right next to me. It wasn't until someone pointed out that there was a big OPT sticker in front of my table, out of my sight but right in front of the voters, that I realized I was sucker punched.
Of course, this kind of competition is definitely more fun than serious and the only person I was mad at was myself for not thinking of sabotaging Pat earlier. I consider this a rookie mistake and give full credit to my veteran competitor and friend. Suffice it to say, neither of us placed in the top 5 as far as I know. Mr. Silky won for his creamy corn chowder and the cockiness of the Tortilla Boys (their real nickname) did them in a bit and placed 2nd. The third place finisher was my personal choice for the overall winner. A place I've never heard of, Center Street Social in Shelton, made a Spicy 3 Melon Gazpacho soup that not only was it truly inspirational but every bit a mouth watering delight if I've ever had one.
First off, it was the perfect refreshing summer soup. The blend of both sweet and spice, all in one bite, had me at "hello". I took one sip and handed back to the chef and said "please add a shot of vodka and call me for brunch" - yes, it was that good. It most assuredly would have taken 1st prize in a contest judged by culinary guru's but the voters were you and me, Sam & Suzy Six Pack - we average Joe's with ordinary pallets. The trick to winning these kind of people-judging events is to err on the side of being more mainstream. For example, going too spicy, which they admitted intentionally doing, doesn't garner the love of some voters who stay out of the kitchen because it's too hot, if you know what I mean. Still, it was liquid decadence and the perfect example why restaurants should compete in these kinds of events, win or lose. Center Street Social didn't walk away with a blue ribbon but they got at least this new customer to walk in their door this summer!
The bottom line is that my ego was a bit bruised after having it inflated by so many people telling me how much they loved my chowder. I'm nowhere in the same league as the pro's. I let me guard down and dreamed of taking home some recognition and being able to rib my chef friends. It was a lesson in humility and instant empathy for so many great chefs that compete in Chowdafest and don't walk away with any hardware. Now, of course, the difference being that all those people I did impress, aren't coming back to my restaurant to try other things as I don't have one.but all the competing restaurants, win or lose, get a big bump in business
Chowdafest is of course as much ego as it is a smart promotional opportunity for restaurants. It's experiential marketing at it's best as people literally get a taste of a restaurant that no ad, no commercial can provide. But I now have a deeper appreciation for the disappointment for several friends who compete each year but haven't won anything yet. They wouldn't be in Chowdafest if they weren't at the top of their game. Chowdafest is a test of the best of the best. The reality is that not everyone is good enough to even get invited to Chowdafest and being in Chowdafest is a recognition of their talent. Of course, there can only be but one winner.
Take Mansion Clam House of Westport. They literally finished in last place their first two years of competition, then won the next two years in a row. They've finished in 2nd and 3rd since then as the bar gets raised with every Chowdafest with stiffer competition. I know Chef Rigo experienced a different kind of disappointed having been at both the bottom and top of the mountain. Anyway, I found myself relating to my buddy, Gary Zemola from Swanky Franks in Fairfield. He's a great guy and as solid as they come. He's garnered fame for his niche as being one of the best hot dog stands in the country. Because of his success, many people view him as being somewhat one dimensional and don't give him the culinary credit he deserves. During the winter, Gary adds homemade soup to the menu. He's got a chowder-loving following but unless you go to Super Duper in the fall or winter, you don't know this or would even expect it. Are his soups good? They're just like Gary, as solid as they come. They are indeed award worthy especially in a public voting event like Chowdafest because everyone can appreciate his chowders and soup. They have mass appeal and are delicious.
Gary enters each year because it's a smart way to promote this part of his menu but Gary is like every chef I know, he believes he's the best. He is but so are his fellow chefs. If they don't think they can out cook anyone else, they should be in a different profession. There's an undeniable respect between chefs. A camaraderie not often experienced in other professions and though they have fun with each other, when it comes to Chowdafest, they "know" they're the best and the goal is to prove it. Now, Gary has always finished in the top five, narrowly missing winning it all by the narrowest of margins. I can see the disappointment in his eyes each year and as the event director, I hate to see anyone lose and there's little solace anyone can give. However, the reality is in a competition between the best, there are no losers, just winners waiting for their day in the sun and no doubt Gary will have his. Me on the other hand, I'll stick to organizing these event - too much pressure. Happy 4th!