By Gavin Stern
Hot seafood bisque splashes down. First place was awarded to the Jolly Fisherman.
Seven chefs battled for soupy glory at the thirteenth Long Island Chowder Contest at the Snapper Inn in Oakdale. The contest is held annually during Superbowl weekend, with donations going to the Great South Bay Nature Conservancy. Local radio station B-103 broadcasted from the contest and urged residents to attend.
George Remmer, whose grandfather founded the Snapper Inn in 1929, estimated that 200 to 300 people attended the competition, about the same as last year. Competitors included the Snapper Inn, Jolly Fisherman, Sea Levels, Riverbay, Porters on the Lake, H2O and Irish Coffee Pub.
The Snapper Inn hosts the annual Long Island Chowder Contest. It is located on the Connetquot River on the south shore of Long Island.
The chowder contest drives business during the quiet winter months, said manager Josh Shortell. Shortell doesn’t mind allowing chefs from rival restaurants to share his kitchen – and the spotlight.
“We put our pride to the side and all come together to benefit the community,” he said. The suggested $10 donation goes toward the restoration of the Great South Bay’s clam population, which collapsed after the 1970s, according the Nature Conservancy.
The Snapper Inn’s Manhattan clam chowder gleams in the sunlight. This chowder won first place in its category
Chowder connoisseurs packed the dining area and spilled outdoors to watch the Snapper Inn Frostbite Fleet sailboat race.
“People come from all over the island,” Remmer said.
“The most difficult part of cooking good chowder is to balance full flavor without being too fishy,” said Norman Roscoe, a retired teacher from Oakdale. Roscoe attended the competition for the past three years and prefers Manhattan clam chowder with lots of vegetables.
“Seafood should dominate and the sauce reinforce the flavor,” he said.
Cooking up award-winning chowder isn’t easy. Chef Vincent Pomara has been a chowder specialist for 16 years. This year, Pomara represented Porters On The Lake.
“I’ll win without a doubt because of the care I put in it,” Pomara said. “I thought out of the box.”
When Remmer announced the winners, Pomara took a step back and leaned against the wall. His Manhattan clam chowder won second place – but the New England clam chowder didn’t place at all.
“I’m so surprised. They said it was the best ever,” Pomara said. He vowed to try again next year with the same recipe.
Chowder connoisseurs stand in judgment. Chowders were evaluated in three categories: Manhattan, New England and seafood bisque.
Chef Jesse Corsini, a six-year veteran from Sea Levels, won second place in the “white chowder” category. Dressed in New York Giants attire for the Superbowl game versus the New England Patriots, he refused to call his creation “New England” clam chowder.
“It was a people pleaser,” Corsini said. “We used local Long Island clams, corn, sweet potatoes – not typical ingredients but they add a lot of flavor.” Though pleased with his success, Corsini said he wants to experiment with a new recipe next year.
The Snapper Inn, which won first place in the New England chowder category, has a different strategy.
“Our goal is to keep it consistent,” Shortell said. “We use what we serve in the restaurant.”
The Snapper Inn Frostbite Fleet races around the Connetquot River. Attendees at the Long Island Chowder Contest watched the race from the Snapper Inn.
Yet, a challenger to Snapper Inn’s chowder crown may be waiting in the wings.
“I can do better,” said Bill Connor, clutching a tower of used Styrofoam cups. Connor, from Oakdale, attended the chowder contest to sample his future competitors. In a few weeks Connor opens his own restaurant, Barnicle Bills, at Montauk and West Sayville roads.
“This contest gets better every year,” Shortell said. “It’s good for the community, good for the Great South Bay, and good exposure for the Snapper Inn.”