Sept. 22, 2011
By Adam White
Even as the nation grapples with a bear market, the right stock sent Aaron Epworth soaring to a double victory in the first annual Williston Chowder Challenge on Sept. 18.
Epworth, the executive chef at On Tap Bar and Grill in Essex Junction, used a complex fish stock made with clams, lobster, shrimp, crab, scallops and mussels as the base for his seafood chowder, which won the top awards as both the people’s choice and judges’ choice at the benefit event for the Williston Police Officers’ Association and Williston Community Food Shelf.
“All that seafood made a really good stock,” Epworth said. “I also used sherry, shallots and a lot of fresh thyme.”
Chunks of shellfish and lobster could be found throughout the final product, and deep-fried leeks sprinkled on top provided the finishing touch to the hands-down champion among the 13 chowders being judged.
“We’ve been getting a lot of compliments,” Epworth said. “Everyone seems to love it.”
The event raised close to $4,000 for the two charities, according to organizer Travis Trybulski. Other than a problem with an electricity source at the Village Green site that was overcome thanks to power generators from the Fire Department, the inaugural Challenge went off without a hitch.
“You never know what to expect in the first year, but I’ve heard nothing but good things,” Trybulski said.
Not too seriously, however: Shawn Beede, head chef at Monty’s Old Brick Tavern, sported costume dog ears on his cap and boasted that his “dog chowder” included such ingredients as beef bones and dog biscuits.
His actual entry, “poor man’s chowder,” featured chunks of monkfish floating in a broth that originated from cornhusks soaked in milk. Old Bay seasoning and a cinnamon stick added some extra zip and zest.
“I’m really happy with how it turned out,” Beede said. “The whole (event) seems like a huge success.”
Second and third places in the judges’ competition went to Essex eateries Cody’s Irish Pub and Grille and Firebird Café, respectively. Williston’s Chef’s Corner Café and Bakery was the second place finisher in the people’s choice voting, followed by Ray’s Seafood Market in Essex Junction in third place.
Chef’s Corner earned top honors in the best display category, thanks to a vibrant island scene complete with tropical flowers, coconuts, luau music and even live fish swimming in a bowl.
“This is the only display that hits every sense,” said judge June Bugbee of Sew Many Treasures in Williston. “There is something to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. They spent a lot of time on this.”
Runner-up in the display category was Sweet Clover Market of Essex, which featured a map of northern New England with separate piles of seafood for each state: clams for Vermont, mussels for New Hampshire and lobsters for Maine. Sweet Clover’s server, Heather Belcher, agreed that the event was a success – albeit a bit sloppy one at times.
“The best part is watching people spill (chowder) down their shirts,” she said with a laugh.
Trybulski said the event couldn’t have happened without the support of its many sponsors – including Maple Tree Place, Omega real estate, electric and construction, Munson Earth Moving and Extra Space Storage.
“The community support has been great,” he said.