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Sue Bush
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Chowder Cook-Off Finds Five Winners

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Saturday, February 25, 2006

Jonathan Thomas,2, happily accepts a taste of chowder from his mom, Caitlin Ryan, during a Feb. 25 Winterfest Chowder Cook-off event.
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North Adams - What do Winterfest Chowder Cook-Off judges Mayor John Barrett III, Holiday Inn staffer Dave Fierro, David Lamarre, a Williams College dining services manager, and North Adams Transcript reporter Jennifer Huberdeau have in common with members of the cook-off's voting public?

Not much, according to the "best chowder" voting results.

A Difference of Palate

The judges' panel named a Cafe Latino corn/clam chowder as the number one chowder. The voting public, however, voted a first place tie between a Boston Sea Foods chowder and a chowder prepared by Gramercy Bistro cooks.

The Feb. 25 event was hosted by the Steeples Restaurant at the Holiday Inn on American Legion Drive.

At the end of the day, five chowders were recognized as being among the best of the best, said Mayor's Office of Tourism Director Rod Bunt.

Initially, the judges' decision and the public voting results were to be counted as having 50 percent value each toward the selection of a "best chowder."

But the public's tie vote, which passed over the judges' favorite, threw a wrinkle into the calculations, Bunt said.

So the contest was split into "Judges' Choice" and "People's Choice" categories, and first, second, and third place chowders were named in each category.

Judges' Choice chowder winners are: first, Cafe Latino, second, North Adams Regional Hospital, and third, Steeples restaurant.

People's Choice winners are : first, Boston Sea Foods and Gramercy Bistro [tie vote], second, Steeples restaurant, and third, Cafe Latino.

Theirs To Keep

Last year's winner, Mountain View Restaurant, did not earn a top three finish this year but will get a bit of a "prize," Bunt said.
A "best chowder" plaque has traveled from restaurant to restaurant depending on the winner of any specific cook-off competition; Mountain View Restaurant will be allowed to keep the plaque won in 2005, Bunt said.

Author and illustrator Timothy Basil Ering of Somerville, Mass. gave a kiss of approval to Cafe Latino's chowder.
And seven new plaques will be designed and awarded to the 2006 winners. The plaques will acknowledge whether the winning chowders were "judges' choice" or "people's choice," and will include the level of finish. For example, Cafe Latino will receive two plaques, one for the judges' first place award and another for the people's third place acknowledgement, Bunt said.

"I feel really good about this," Bunt said, and added that the change in voting honored more restaurants. "It was pretty interesting how much difference there was between the judges choice and the chowders the public chose."

Hospital Food, Yum Yum!

The chowder-tasting was free. Those who wished to vote donated a minimum of $1 to a Mohawk Theater restoration project fund. Bunt said that 120 people voted and the donations totaled $140.

The NARH finish made hospital cook John Charbonneau's words, spoken earlier in the day, seem prophetic.

"We enjoy coming down to the chowder cook-off and trying to get rid of that stigma of 'hospital food,'" he said.

Scott King assisted Charbonneau with chowder-serving duties, and NARH cook Kevin Tassone was the chowder mastermind, Charbonneau said.

"A Good Community Thing"

Prior to the judging, Gramercy Bistro owner and chef Sandy Smith expressed his pleasure at cook-off participation.

"It's a community event," Smith said. "Community events create strong communities, and a strong community is a healthy community. A healthy community is a happy community."

Community participation was the catalyst that generated a chowder entry from "How Sweet It Is," a food delivery and catering service that does not operate as a sit-down restaurant. Business owner Patti Boudreau said that the event brings people together.

"We came down and did this last year, too," she said. "I like it. I think it's a good community thing."

"What Better Surprise..."

The chowder cook-off came as a very welcome surprise to Timothy Basil Ering, of Somerville, Mass., and Norman Stahlman of East Greenbush, N.Y..

Ering, an illustrator and author of the children's book "The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone," and Stahlman are friends and visiting the city because of private event. Ering said that he'd just finished registering his mother as a Holiday Inn guest when he learned of the event.

"We just walked in," he said. "I checked my mom into the hotel, and little did we know there is a chowderfest going on. And we are chowder lovers."

"This is awesome," said Stahlman.

After tasting, Ering became an instant fan of the Cafe Latino chowder.

"This is killer, it really is," he said of the thick, steaming, spicy broth. "And I'm originally from Cape Cod, so I know chowder."

Ering and Stahlman were prepared to circle the room and sample each chowder entry, Ering said.

"We're going to go around and get the full effect. What better surprise than to come to a hotel on a snowy February day and find a free chowderfest?"

Fair Approach To Fare Tasting

Steve Lewitt of North Adams attended the event with his wife Amy and sons Ashton, 15 months old, and three-year-old Gabriel.

"I don't like chowder," he said. "But my wife does, so she'll do all the tasting."

Amy Lewitt said that she was eager to make the rounds at her first city Winterfest chowder cook-off, and planned to let her sons sample the offerings.

"They both eat pretty much anything," she said.

North Adams Mayor John Barrett III served as a judge for the chowder cook-off.

Couri Ghidotti, 9, said that she enjoys a good chowder.

"I liked the hospital's the best," she said.

Michaella Vecchiarelli,9, said that she was reserving judgement until she worked her way around the room.

"I haven't tried them all yet," she said.

Alison Tassone, 10, chose the NARH chowder as her favorite.

"The hospital's is the best, and I'd like it even if my dad [hospital cook Kevin Tassone] didn't make it," she said.

Alison's brother, 11-year-old Domenick Tassone, said that he "kind of likes" chowder.

Mary Jensen helped serve Boston Sea Foods chowder.
"I'm going to try them all before I make a decision," he said.

The event showcases restaurants, according to Harold Dupee.

"Look at all these people," he said. "This is a wonderful event. We have wonderful restaurants and this gives everybody a chance to show it off."

Lovin' Llamas

The chowder cook-off wasn't the only Winterfest activity; the First Congregational Church hosted a pancake breakfast, the North Adams Public Library hosted a morning children's event complete with a llama from the West Mountain Farms in Stamford, Vt., and children's activities were offered at the North Adams Early Intervention and Toy Library.

Caitlin Ryan and her children Jonathan Thomas, 2, and Taylor Thomas, 4, visited the city library and the toy library.

"The kids had a great time," Ryan said. "[At the toy library] there were snow pictures, a rice table, a 'goop' table. All the kids were in good spirits."

"I went down the slide five times!" said Taylor.

Taylor volunteered to share her experience at the city library and her love of llamas.

"I love llamas, and 'Golden Nugget' [llama's name] was real soft," Taylor said. "I saw him; he picked his leg up. He was real quiet. I hope I can see a llama again. I watched him when he got in the back of the car [a minivan] and it was really fun."

NARH Dietary Services cooks John Charbonneau and Scott King served up the hospital's chowder, made by Kevin Tassone.

A free showing of the family film "Madagascar" was hosted by the Western Heritage Gateway State Park during the afternoon as part of Winterfest and a "Mayor's Free Skating Party" at the Vietnam Veteran's skating rink was scheduled as the Winterfest evening finale.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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