Stefano's Chowder Is King at Newport ContestVoted First Place Among New England Chowders – in New England
The best New England clam chowder comes from right here on Long Beach Island – says New England!
Stefano’s Seafood & Pasta captured a coveted first place in the famed Great Chowder Cook-Off at Newport, R.I., June 2. It’s the top rung on the northern ladder for the champion LBI establishment, which last year brought home a second-place trophy from Newport.
Here at home, 12,000 tasters have voted the same white chowder recipe as first-place, Grand Prize champ for four years in a row at Chowderfest in Beach Haven. At Chowderfest, the white recipe is entered with Stefano’s California Grill, and the red is entered with Stefano’s Seafood & Pasta, also a multi-year grand champ in that category.
Some friends are saying that Stefano’s big win at Newport makes Long Beach Island the clam chowder capital of the world.
Restaurant owner Steve DiPietro tended more to clam up than claim bragging rights for media attention, but he did say he is proud to bring the trophy home for Long Beach Island.
Asked how he feels about LBI taking the honors in New England, the traditional home for which the white chowder is named, DiPietro said, “I feel that it just wasn’t a win for Stefano’s, but a win for all of LBI.
“There were a lot of people who knew our Island, and we told a lot of other people what a great place LBI is. And next year, we are going to bring a lot of people up with us, not just for help, but because Newport is such a great town with great people.”
Just don’t look for red chowder if you go. It’s New England, after all.
The competition in Newport comes from all over the New England states and some from across America. And beyond. Stefano’s entered the Clam Category, but in the Seafood Category, third place chowder was from County Clare, Ireland – the Bunratty Manor Hotel.
Back in the clam competition, Stefano’s bested an entry from Greene, Maine/New York City, which settled in second place. Luke’s Lobster/Hurricane’s Chowder was that entry. Stefano’s also captured Best Decorated Booth in the entire competition.
The Schweppes Great Chowder Cook-Off is billed as “the original, largest and longest-running (over 30 years) chowder bonanza in New England.” It is actually the one that inspired Long Beach Island’s Chowder Cook-Off Classic more than 24 years ago. Country Kettle Fudge owner John Maschal also operates a fudge shop in Newport, and he brought the idea to LBI. The Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce ran with the ball (the clam?) and the rest is history. This year will see the 24th annual Chowder Cook-Off Classic, also known as Chowderfest, on Sept. 30.
In Newport, first-, second- and third-place honors are bestowed by voters in a system similar to Chowderfest here. Each ticketholder gets a chip with which to cast a vote. About 10,000 “chowdaheads” attended and voted.
DiPietro and crew made the chowder here on LBI and drove it to Newport in a refrigerated truck that was lent by one of the restaurant’s seafood suppliers, Great Bay Seafood.
“We left on Thursday afternoon and got there at midnight. They have a refrigerated trailer for all the contestants, and we finished up at around 2 in the morning,” DiPietro said.
A contingent of family and friends traveled up for the event. Included in the gang were local businesspeople John Coyle, Vince and Michele Farias, and Jimmy Leonetti.
“On Friday we set up the booth for a couple of hours and then went out for a boat ride through the harbor in Newport. They had a nice dinner under a tent, and a band for the contestants, it was quite a fun time.”
The next day was the festival, and a cold nor’easter ushered it in. This festival has never had a rain-out, but this year threatened to be the first.
“It poured from 6 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon and was windy and cold, but by 1 o’clock the rain settled off and it was just a little bit cloudy and a little bit windy,” DiPietro said.
The Long Beach Island visitors got a kick out of the New England-style contests on the side of the chowder cook-off – events such as “who can eat the most clam cakes” and “who can open the most bottles of beer.”
Another difference from the contest on Long Beach Island is that in Newport, winning can’t be perpetual. As first-place winners, Stefano’s will be allowed to compete for two more years and if it wins three years in a row, it goes into the Hall of Fame and can’t compete in that category anymore, DiPietro noted.
— Maria Scandale