By Luke Baynes
The weather Sunday afternoon was damp and chilly, with a few raindrops falling from an overcast sky.
In other words, it was perfect chowder weather.
The second annual Williston Chowder Challenge saw more than 500 local residents gather on the Village Green to taste and vote on a dozen varieties of a food best enjoyed in the salty seaside air of a port of call.
The charity event, which benefited the Williston Community Food Shelf and the Williston Police Officers’ Association, was the brainchild of Officer Travis Trybulski, who formerly served as a patrol officer and unofficial chowder chef of the Sunapee (N.H.) Police Department.
“The (Sunapee Police) Benevolent Association was an entrant in the chowder challenge that they had down there, and that’s how I got the idea,” Trybulski said.
Twelve local eateries entered the 2012 Williston Chowder Challenge in two categories: traditional (New England-style, both clam and corn) and non-traditional (including Manhattan-style and more esoteric concoctions).
The 12 chowders—five traditional, seven non-traditional—were assessed on a per category basis by both a four-person panel of judges (which included Williston Observer publisher Paul Apfelbaum) and the general public.
The non-traditional category was a split decision, with the Judges’ Choice bestowed upon Williston-based Chef’s Corner and the People’s Choice going to Wooden Spoon Bistro, located in South Burlington.
The traditional chowder champion, on the other hand, was unanimous.
On Tap Bar and Grill, located near Five Corners in Essex Junction, took home both the judges’ and people’s honors—just as it did in 2011.
On Tap Executive Chef Court Webster, who assisted former top chef Aaron Epworth in last year’s chowder coup, said the winning recipe was the result of focusing on chowder fundamentals before adding more exotic seafood delicacies.
“I made about seven different chowders before I came to this one, and they were basic clam chowders, just so I could get the base flavor down before I put all the rest of it in,” Webster said. “This soup’s got lobster and scallops and shrimp and swordfish. I loaded it up with all the delicious seafood creatures there were.”
A sample of public opinion revealed that Webster’s sampling of flavors in the On Tap kitchen paid off.
“On Tap has nailed it,” said Williston Assistant Treasurer Sarah Mason, who scored it “10 out of 10.”
Mike Arena, a Burlington resident and employee of event sponsor KeyBank, had even more enthusiastic praise.
“On Tap Bar and Grill is the bomb,” Arena said. “It’s the best soup I’ve had in a long, long time.”
Following the awards ceremony, Williston Community Food Shelf President Cathy Michaels thanked the public for supporting the event.
“It helps the Food Shelf recoup after a difficult summer,” Michaels said. “We hope to do this for many years to come.”