March 26, 2019

Rising to the Challenge

Chowder contest pits local chefs against each other for charity

Sept. 15, 2011

Adam White

Observer staff

Shawn Beede, head chef at Monty’s Old Brick Tavern in Williston, is preparing a ‘Poor Man’s Chowder'– using monkfish as one key ingredient – for the inaugural Williston Chowder Challenge on Sunday. (Observer photo by Adam White)

With the gauntlet having been thrown down in the inaugural Williston Chowder Challenge, one might expect area chefs to clam up about what they’re tossing into the pot.

But the men behind the kitchen counters in several local restaurants aren’t exactly keeping a tight lid on their strategies for the Sept. 18 Challenge, which will pit 14 local eateries against one another to benefit the Williston Community Food Shelf and Williston Police Officers’ Association.

“I’ve entered a lot of cooking competitions, and the success I’ve had has come from being different,” said Scott Sorrell, chef and co-owner of Chef’s Corner Café and Bakery. “I’m definitely thinking outside the box for this one.”

Sorrell plans to cook up a “Pacific rim” chowder, drawing inspiration from the 11 years that he lived in Hawaii. He intends to use ingredients such as curry and coconut to distance himself from the rest of the pack.

“The majority of people at this competition will be making traditional chowder,” Sorrell said. “They may liven it up a little bit with things like lobster and shrimp, but we’re going to go in a completely different direction.”

The Chowder Challenge is the brainchild of Williston police officer Travis Trybulski, who took part in a similar competition during his seven-year stint with the Sunapee (N.H.) PD. For eight straight installments of the annual contest, Trybulski was the only non-restaurant competitor — but still managed to hold his own against the pros.

“The highest I ever got was second place,” Trybulski said. “I love to cook, and I think I have a very good clam chowder recipe.”

So good, in fact, that Trybulski briefly explored the possibility of marketing his chowder — but has instead channeled his interests into the Challenge. Contestants will be judged in three categories — people’s choice, judges’ choice and best display — with a chance to take home prizes donated by local businesses like Kittredge Restaurant Supply and Buds and Roses Florists.

Whereas the first two categories will hinge on the chowders themselves, the third is an opportunity for participants to show their creativity outside the kitchen.

“Best display isn’t about the presentation of the chowder itself, it’s about how you decorate your booth at the competition,” Trybulski said. Sorrell plans on incorporating an island theme into the Chef’s Corner booth, possibly including “live fish swimming around.”

Visitors to the Chowder Challenge will pay $10 per ticket (children 12 and under are free) and receive a bag with an event program and ballot, door prize ticket, pen, spoon and instructions. They will then be able to sample all of the entries, and cast their votes for the people’s choice winners.

Official judges for the event will include a chef/instructor from the food program at Essex Technical Center, as well as a food critic from the Burlington Free Press and Williston Federated Church pastor Joan O’Gorman. Trybulski won’t judge or enter the competition, so as to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

He does, however, offer his own advice for making award-winning chowder.

“Fat,” Trybulski said. “I use half-and-half, heavy cream and butter — the more fat, the better.”

Other entrants have their own strategies. Mike Pratt, chef at Clark’s Sunoco, plans on entering his signature chicken corn chowder — which he said “flies out the door” every time he cooks it, thanks to his own secret ingredient.

“Love,” Pratt said. “You’ve got to love what you do.”

The first annual Williston Chowder Challenge will take place on Sept. 18, noon to 3 p.m., on the Williston Village Green. For more information, visit

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