Santa Cruz 38th Annual Clam Chowder Cook-Off & Festival

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the backdrop to the 38th Annual Clam Chowder Cook-Off and Festival held rain or shine on Saturday and Sunday, February 23rd and 24th.  Amateur and professional chefs will compete to win the coveted Best Clam Chowder award in the biggest and most established chowder cook-off competition in the country.

Chefs are on one of four teams, based on their status and the type of chowder they are creating:

  1. Amateur Boston
  2. Amateur Manhattan
  3. Professional Boston
  4. Professional Manhattan

Amateur chefs are those who whip up their chowder in their home kitchen while professionals include those in the restaurant, food service or catering industries.

Boston clam chowder, also referred to as New England clam chowder, has been around since the 1830s. It consists of a rich, creamy, thick base made from milk or cream and includes potatoes, onions and clams. It may also incorporate pork or bacon but never tomatoes. Never.

Manhattan clam chowder came into existence in the mid-1800’s when the Italian population in New York bucked tradition and began adding tomatoes to their recipe, which thinned the soup and gave it a reddish hue, and thus began a rivalry that continues to this day.

In fact, this anti-tomato sentiment ran so deep for many that in 1939, legislation was initiated in Maine to make it illegal to add tomatoes to chowder. The bill failed to pass but there still remains a definite divide on the Boston VS Manhattan chowder front.

The amateur teams kick off the event on Saturday, February 24th while Sunday is all about the pros. All chowders must be created from scratch at the event, with no advanced preparation allowed. Judges will award the sought-after Best Chowder in each category for both divisions. The public is encouraged to vote for their favorite amateur and pro chowder, and the winners receive the exclusive People’s Choice award. Other accolades include Most Tasted and Most Original Booth. $10 tasting kits go on sale to festival attendees daily at 10am and include 6 tasting tickets, a spoon, cup and ballot.  Admission to the Boardwalk is free.

Public tasting begins at 1pm sharp each day while official judging commences at 1:30pm. Official tasting is blind, with the evaluators not aware of whose chowder they are consuming.

The judging of each chowder is based on three primary criteria:

  1. Flavor
  2. Color
  3. Consistency

Traditional recipes will be given greater consideration. The judges will also award the Best Booth, which will be based upon originality, costumes, and booth décor. Many teams go all out in this arena, adding their own fun visual ‘flavor’ to their tents.

All People’s Choice ballots must be turned in by 3:15pm and the awards ceremony is held daily at 4pm.

All proceeds from the sale of tasting kits benefit the Santa Cruz Parks & Recreation. Last year’s Cook-Off raised over $90,000, enabling the Parks & Rec Department to hold a number of programs for the City’s youth, teens and seniors as well as maintain and update local parks, open spaces, dog parks and other recreational areas.

If you are looking for a delicious way to spend your weekend, head to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on February 23rd and 24th for the 38th annual Chowder Cook-Off! Taste some great soups, give your two cents on which is best, maybe go on a ride or two and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Monterey Bay.

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