If you were within a five-mile radius of the Mattapoisett Knights of Columbus Hall on September 23, you knew something good was simmering. The air was thick with the scent of warm, wonderful chowders. Chowders seasoned with linguica, bacon, and that elusive “secret seasoning” were available for taste testing at the 4thannual Mattapoisett Fire Fighters Association Chowder Competition.
Once again, the event brought out crowds of families and chowder lovers to sample the wide variety of concoctions and vote for their favorites. Monies raised from the event are used for a variety of local charities and events supported by the Mattapoisett Fire Department Association.
There were 13 entries this year from the two categories of municipal department and commercial restaurants.
In the municipal category, there were chowders from the Rochester Fire Department, Fairhaven Fire Department, Marion Harbormaster, Mattapoisett Police Officers Association, Marion Recreation Department, and Dartmouth District Two – also known as the Russell Mills Engine Company.
Local restaurants who participated were Fairhaven’s Bayside Lounge and Cleary’s Pub to Mattapoisett’s 143 Market, Walrus and Captain, Lebanese Kitchen, The Inn At Shipyard Park, and On The Go.
Two-ounce sample cups gave ticketholders the opportunity to taste all entries without getting too full from any one chowder. Also available were hamburgers and hot dogs for those just hanging out and not interested in chowder, such as one small fry who exclaimed to his mother, “That’s yucky!”
Chefs were a bit guarded when asked if their blend was a traditional rendering of the New England classic or contained something else not normally found in chowder.
Rochester Deputy Fire Chief Albert Weigel simply responded “Yes” when asked if the Rochester pot contained a traditional style or included secret spices. (Thanks a lot, chief!) But he did say that his group was hoping to score again, as they had been the People’s Choice winner for three years and have held first and second place standing in two previous competitions as the Judge’s Choice winners.
Marion Recreation Department Director Jody Dickerson said his special chowder – a smoked chicken and corn creation – was a recipe he had been crafting over time.
Over at the Marion Harbormaster’s table, chef Karen Perry said she used liberal amounts of bacon and butter. Oh, you can’t go wrong with those two ingredients.
Paul Andrews, Mattapoisett police officer and EMT, said his chowder was a family recipe. He said he started making the creamy mouthwatering chowder on Friday, a full two days before the event began.
“I’ve cooked pounds of bacon,” he said with happy exhaustion.
All chowder makers labored away before the event making between six and eight gallons of chowder for the competition.
Mattapoisett firefighter and president of the Mattapoisett Fire Department Association Tim Murray said of the event, “I love the sense of community: people coming together putting everything else aside for a good time with family and friends.”
Mattapoisett Fire Department Lt. Justin Dubois said that a few years ago the Fire Department wanted to do a family event to promote fire safety. The first year found a scattering of pop-up tents over the grounds, but in subsequent years the association has partnered with Chase Canopy making the event a more cohesive venue beneath one giant tent.
While the little ones jumped around on fire trucks, sounding bells and sirens, scampering to catch and toss a beach ball or just generally running their parents ragged, inside the hall the judges for the Judges’ Choice awards were doing a blind-taste testing.
The 2018 winners of the Judges’ Choice from the municipal department entries were: first place – Marion Recreation Department, second place – Dartmouth’s Russell Mills Engine Company, and third place – Rochester Fire Department.
Judges’ Choice awards in the commercial entry category found first place going to 143 Market, second place to The Inn At Shipyard Park, and third place to On The Go.
The People’s Choice Awards went to the Mattapoisett Police Department and the Inn At Shipyard Park.
All winners received the same prize – Bragging Rights. But as one happy chowder eater exclaimed between sips, “They are all really good!”
By Marilou Newell