If you thought there was only one way to make a chowder then you need to think again. Or else you should pay a visit to the Ulster Chowder Championship held annually in Ballycastle during Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival.
This year’s competition took place on Bank Holiday Monday (May 27th) with 10 chefs from across the Causeway Coast and Glens vying for the title of champion chowder maker.
While the base ingredients may have been similar (plenty of fresh, local seafood for a start), each entrant had their own unique approach which left the judges with the difficult task of choosing the best.
After much deliberation, Trudy Brolly from Ocho Tapas in Portrush was declared the winner by host Wendy Gallagher inside the seafront Cookery Theatre.
Trudy wowed with ‘a dish that had everything’ according to celebrity chef Paula McIntyre.
Alongside her fellow judges including food critic Joris Minne, Eimear Mullin from Thyme & Co in Ballycastle and Festival Steering Group member Peter Molloy they were tasked with a blind taste testing challenge to select their favourite.
Speaking after her victory was declared, Trudy said her efforts in creating the perfect base had paid off: “I used Portrush lobster and crab, roasted off my fish bones, and reduced it down to make it really intense and get the depth of flavour which I was looking for. I took part last year as well and after listening to the judge’s feedback I knew I needed to make a strong stock in order to stand out and I am delighted to have won!”
Trudy was full of praise for the competition, which gives entrants the unique experience of cooking in front of a live audience.
“I loved every minute of it. There was a great atmosphere and it was just amazing. We are really proud to bring this title to Portrush,” she said.
Trudy now has the honour of going on to compete in the All-Ireland series which will take place next year in Kinsale, County Cork. The original chowder dish is thought to date back to the 18th century when it was first brought to Newfoundland by seafarers, many of them from France. It was made using fish, salted pork and onions and thickened using ship biscuits because milk and potatoes weren’t available. This tradition was evident during the cook-off with some chefs choosing to include a cracker type accompaniment with their creations with others serving Guinness bread or wheaten.
The runner-up spot in the competition went to Gary Stewart from Tartine in Bushmills while his colleague Stephen Lampard was third.
With entries from right across the Causeway Coast and Glens area, the other competitors were Nigel Steele (Portrush Atlantic Hotel), Pol Shields (Marine Hotel, Ballycastle), Derek Steele (Harry’s Shack, Portstewart), James O’Brien (Drummond Hotel, Ballykelly), Chris Lamb (Hedges Hotel at The Dark Hedges Estate), Gareth Boyd (Boyd’s Cafe, Ballymoney) and Anto McCabe (The Central Bar, Ballycastle).
Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival continues until Sunday 2nd June with activities on Rathlin Island including have-a-go kayaking, a fun run trail in search of the elusive Golden Hare, live music and the Big Lunch get-together at the seafront.
For more information go to www.rathlinsoundmaritimefestival.com or follow the event on Facebook and Twitter.