2010 3rd Annual Ocean Wise Seafood Chowder ChowDown

Congratulations to Hapa Izakaya for winning People’s Choice and 1st Place for Best Sustainable Seafood Chowder on the West Coast voted by the judges!

The 2010 3rd annual Ocean Wise Chowder ChowDown at the Vancouver Aquarium went down yesterday. Twelve BC restaurants from Vancouver (including one from Kelowna and one from Victoria) gathered at the aquarium to compete for the best seafood chowder and earn the title of “Best Sustainable Seafood Chowder on the West Coast″. All chowders were paired with beers from 12 of BC’s craft brewers.

Ahh chowder, a classic comfort food perfect for this time of year. I attended the same event last year (see my post here) featuring different restaurants and chowders, and I was honored to be invited again this year. Unfortunately the turnout was a bit smaller and I think the bitter cold weather had something to do with it. Nonetheless what better way is there to warm up then with some gourmet seafood chowder. What? You thought I’d say hot chocolate? That was AFTER! Actually, no I went for gelato after. (Which by the way check out my 1st ever Follow Me Foodie Christmas Flavours Gelato Event).

It’s ironic eating seafood in front of fishes, but at least it’s sustainable! I was so into the food though, go fish… no I mean figure, that I barely took notice of anything else. I found the seafood chowders to be a lot more creative this year, and I enjoyed most of them, but on a different level. I’m not sure if any restaurants intend to feature the chowders on their official menu, so I suggest calling ahead to confirm (I bet Hapa Izakaya will though). I had 16 mini bowls of seafood chowder (I had to repeat 4) which means I beat my previous 13 from last year. Yup, I’m super serious when it comes to food and very passionate about Follow Me Foodie.

2010 3rd Annual Ocean Wise Seafood Chowder ChowDown Official Winners:

  • People’s Choice: Hapa Izakaya – Halibut Dashi Chowder
  • Judge’s Choice: Hapa Izakaya – Halibut Dashi Chowder
  • Best Chowder and Beer Pairing – O’Doul’s Restaurant & Bar

Follow Me Foodie Picks

  • Hapa Izakaya – Halibut Dashi Chowder (as a soup)
  • Savoury Chef – Spot Prawn and Bacon Chowder with Smoked Scallop (as a seafood chowder)

Ocean Wise is a non-profit organization that partners with Vancouver Aquarium to encourage restaurants and the community to support environmental friendly seafood choices and practices. Chances are you have probably seen the Ocean Wise logo at some point or another. Like last year, all utensils and bowls were bio-degradable which suited the theme. However just like I suggested last year I think there could be a better method so that everyone is using one spoon throughout the night.

Congratulations to all participating restaurants: Wild Rice Restaurant, Aqua Riva, O’Doul’s Restaurant & Bar, Codfather’s Market, COAST Restaurant, Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA), Hapa Izakaya, Rocky Mountain Flatbread, Redfish Bluefish, The Ramada Plaza, Savoury Chef, Vancouver Aquarium

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

**Please Note: My following “ratings’ are purely based on the seafood chowder served this evening and not the actual restaurant/chef/regular menu.

On the table:

Wild Rice Modern Chinese Cuisine – 3.5/6

  • Sloping Hill pork hock and Tea smoked Ling Cod chowder with BC Spot Prawn Crackers
  • Beer Pairing: Driftwood Brewery, White Bark
  • It was the only dairy free one made with coconut milk and some smoked tofu. It was still very creamy and the smokiest with smoky bacon-like flavours as well.
  • The flavour was very distinct and very woodsy and earthy and almost like the flavour of pine mushrooms to me, so I was surprised that there was no mushrooms.
  • The idea of pork hock rather than pork belly was very Chinese and it reminded me of flavours from the Chinese Soy Sauce Tea Leaf Eggs.

Aqua Riva – 1/6

  • Manhattan Seafood Chowder with Saffron, Chorizo & Citrus Cream
  • Beer Pairing: Storm Brewing Ltd., Flemish Sour Red Ale
  • To be honest, it was my least favourite.
  • The citrus cream didn’t melt into the soup and just kind of separated in clumps.
  • The broth was bland and watery like tomato vegetable soup.
  • There was hint of smokiness and some chorizo spice, but that’s it.

O’Doul’s Restaurant & Bar – 5/6

  • WINNER: Best chowder and beer pairing
  • Cortes Island Mussel and House Cured Bacon Chowder
  • Beer Pairing: Storm Brewing Ltd., Scottish Cream Ale
  • I thought it was the best Manhattan style seafood chowder of the night. I also thought it showcased the best and freshest seafood.
  • The mussels were small but plump, juicy and sweet. It was one of the few places serving the seafood whole.
  • There was a great base of aromatics and perfectly diced celery and creamy Yukon Gold potatoes, but not an overwhelming amount.
  • It was a sweeter chowder made with the beer pairing: Scottish Cream Ale.
  • The base was almost like a bisque and it had a savoury clam nectar balanced with tangy and smoky flavours. There was a bit of heat, but it wasn’t spicy, and I loved the drizzle of fennel and onion pestu (no nuts) to freshen up all the flavours.
  • O’Doul’s won People’s Choice last year – see here.

Chef Matt Blondin of Codfather’s Market in Kelowna, BC pouring the nitrogen for his soda cracker ice cream!

Codfather’s Market – 3/6

  • Modern Crustacean Chowder served with Soda Cracker Ice Cream
  • Beer Pairing: Russel Brewery, Honey Blonde Ale
  • Points for creativity AND a show! Definitely most creative, but something that sounded better on paper to me. A bit lost in translation.
  • The ice cream ended up being the show rather than the chowder and it overpowered the seafood taste and the Dungeness crab meat was a bit wasted.
  • It was too salty and tangy especially with the celeraic addition and lemon juice.
  • The Soda Cracker Ice Cream was the texture of rich thick ice cream, but almost like a salty frozen mousse with the after taste of those Premium Plus Soda Crackers.
  • I loved the idea, but maybe could have been better executed.

COAST Restaurant – 2.5/6

  • Manhattan Chowder
  • Beer Pairing: Russell Brewery, IP’eh (India Pale Ale)
  • It was served with creme fraiche, smoked cod roe, and chives. There were also cute little mini sourdough buns the size of Timbits to mop up the soup.
  • The broth was probably made with the most shells/crusteceans and it had the most intense seafood flavour out of all chowders, which was important to me. However the flavour was too sharp and it was almost alcoholy like a Caesar. I think it was a very thin broth made of clam nectar, mussel nectar and salty bacon.
  • The tangy creme fraiche with the added bursts of juicy saltiness from the cod roe didn’t help and it got too harsh in taste.
  • COAST placed 3rd last year – see here.
  • My restaurant post for Coast here, although they’ve changed chefs now.

Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA) – 2/6

  • Ginger-Coconut Fabian Lobster and Pearls. It was served with a drizzle of spiced red beet root puree.
  • Beer Pairing: Central City Brewing, Red Racer Lager
  • This sounded exciting, and it was girly and pink, but it was a whole lot of broth.
  • I missed the taste of seafood in the broth, although there were pieces of lobster, scallops and halibut that seemed to be cooked separately.
  • It was almost Asian meets Russian with the coconut and ginger and then red beet and pickled pearl onions. The flavours didn’t get along and I found it confusing.
  • It was like tangy hot milk with a little bit of heat, but it wasn’t spicy. It was made with some bacon fat, which wasn’t obvious, and then the tangy pearl onions were a bit random and too strong that it took over the seafood.
  • Chefs from PICA are students, so kudos for even competing with these industry professionals.
  • PICA entered last year as well – see here.

**WINNER: Hapa Izakaya (Kitsilano location) – 6/6

  • Halibut Dashi chowder with a drizzle of Shiso oil.
  • Beer Pairing: Central City Brewing, Red Racer Lager
  • This was the winner of both categories! I think it was an excellent soup, but as a seafood chowder I wouldn’t have picked it. I did call that it would win People’s Choice though, and well deserved.
  • It basically tasted like a melted baked potato soup, but like the best baked potato soup ever. It was topped with crispy bacon bits and some basic white bread croutons.
  • After trying 6 chowders, I actually stopped at this one because the flavour and texture was so different compared to all the others thus far.
  • It was a very silky smooth ultra creamy texture different from all others.
  • It was made with a dashi (traditional Japanese sea/soup stock) made with halibut, scallop, benito flakes and kelp. I think the kelp and Shiso oil combination did it, it added a mild but distinct seafood/salty flavour and a silkiness that was undeniable.
  • I don’t even remember the actual pieces of seafood, which I think was pieces of halibut. I just know the flavour was incredible and most appealing to the general public, although still unique and still Japanese. It was very Hapa Izakaya.
  • My restaurant post for Hapa Izakaya Robson – here.
  • My restaurant post for Hapa Izakaya Yaletown – here.

Rocky Mountain Flatbread – 2.5/6

  • Ling Cod Bourbon Chowder
  • Beer Pairing: Howe Sound Brewing, Rail Ale Nut Brown
  • This was surprisingly forgettable and it had too many toppings that it overwhelmed the seafood.
  • Every bite was this Hawaiian sea salt cured salmon and onion salsa, which I couldn’t help but to imagine it being delicious on some sort of West coast taco.
  • There was lots of ingredients with salty bites of capers and lots of spices, but the Ling cod was bland and unseasoned.
  • It was definitely bold in taste being made with Bourbon and a hint of cayenne, so it carried some heat and spice, but Cod was too mild of a choice.

Red Fish Blue Fish (Victoria, BC) – 4/6

  • Indo-Pacific Spot Prawn Chowder
  • Beer Pairing: Howe Sound Brewing, Garibaldi Honey Pale Ale
  • This was like an African/Indian twist to a clam chowder and it was probably the most bold and distinct in flavour so it made it one of the most memorable.
  • It was almost like a bisque and it was served with a drizzle of prawn shell infused clarified butter so it added a nice richness that actually wasn’t greasy. I prefer a prawn shell infused broth instead, but the drizzle was new and different.
  • It was smoky, tangy and sweet from the coconut milk and caramelized onions followed by the heat of ginger.
  • It had some roughly chopped semi tender yams and celery, which made it less like a seafood chowder and more like a curry vegetable soup.
  • It was the spiciest chowder so the cilantro and micro greens topping helped lighten it up and add freshness.
  • The seafood was only whole prawns, and a lot of them too, but some Dungeness crab meat would have been great to give it more texture. I almost ended up eating the spot prawns separately. It was delicious and flavourful as a curry soup, but the spices stood out before the seafood did and I couldn’t taste much seafood in the stock.

The Ramada Plaza & Conference Centre, Collective – 4.5/6

  • Healthy Oceans Chowder
  • Beer Pairing: Driftwood Brewery, Farmhand Ale
  • The most traditional in name and seafood chowders of the night. It’s expected coming from a hotel, but also surprising with all the ingredients used.
  • It was safe and it featured the most seafood with Dungeness crab, clams, prawns, salmon, halibut and various other shellfish. It was very hearty.
  • I could taste a seafood flavour in the broth and actually bite into pieces of seafood with lots of variety and textures.
  • It was tangy, smoky from bacon and sweet from fresh corn, chanterelles and local honey grown from their own garden. I loved the 3 levels of sweetness from these ingredients.
  • I actually thought it was a great balance, and as much of a sucker I am for anything “innovative” and out of the ordinary I actually really enjoyed this one as a seafood chowder. They also had some edamame beans in there, which were random, but who doesn’t like edamame?

Savoury Chef (Vancouver Catering Company)5.5/6

  • Spot Prawn and Bacon Chowder with Honey Smoked Qualicum Bay Scallop
  • Beer Pairing: Nelson Brewing Company, Faceplant Winter Ale
  • It wasn’t the best seafood chowder I’ve ever had, but it was the best for me there that night as a seafood chowder.
  • I could taste seafood in the broth and there were pieces of BC Spot Prawn and scallops, and the broth was stronger than the one from Ramada.
  • It was made with a prawn stock and I could taste the salty bacon which didn’t overpower the seafood flavour. It was a great balance of sweet, savoury and tangy compared to many overly tangy and/or salty ones that night. There was still a slight tang which I still want and also a bit of smokiness.
  • It was topped with homemade puff pastry crackers, which were actually very good.
  • The thing is, if you have this after the COAST chowder, then the seafood stock will taste watered down just because the one at COAST is so sharp and powerful.
  • As a soup I liked the Hapa Izakaya one better, but as a seafood chowder it was this one for me.

Vancouver Aquarium Catering & Events – 1.5/6

  • Mollusk Chowder
  • Beer Pairing: Nelson Brewing Company, Wild Honey Authentic Ale
  • There was coconut cream and milk, mussels, Japanese Yams, 2 kinds of potatoes, bacon, corn, tomato, smoked paprika and kaffir leaf oil.
  • This was almost like a potato soup to me. It was huge chunks of potato and celery and definitely the chunkiest.
  • It really doesn’t need 2 kinds of potatoes, but it’s better than last years use of 3 kinds of potatoes.
  • When the vegetable outweighs the seafood significantly I think it’s more of a vegetable chowder. The vegetables weren’t tender either.
  • The lime leaf was overpowering and the chowder had a very dull scent and an odd leafy flavour and hindered bitterness.
  • Vancouver Aquarium participated last year too and my comments were almost the same for both years – see here.


  • Bow says:

    Did you clear your palate ‘tween chowders with pieces of bread ? Am surprised that O’Doul’s made such a good one; the PICA looks unappetising, and the Aqua Riva looks just plain BAD.

  • Mijune says:

    @Bow – Yeah I really should have focused a bit more on the beer, but I’m not a beer fan, although I know it did go well with the chowder. My palette cleanser was just water and the wait in the line ups between each table. I was tempted to gather all 12 at once and sample them back to back to get a real clear idea of the differences… although that might have confused me now that you say. I’m curious to know what kind of chowder you would have made though. Your recipes always sound so good.

  • Happy to read this review so soon after the event, and like that you’ve been twice and can offer an overview of this and last year’s event. The seafood chowder interpreted 12 ways – your mastery of eliminating those that were not true to the seafood theme reads well, and of which were made with seafood infused broths/stocks helped me to taste what I missed. If one chose which to eat of all 12 which would mine be – O’Doule’s with the mussels whole … is that Cortez Island or Cartes? Love to try these mussels. Thanks LA.

  • Any chance you can list the beers? I saw a couple in the background that I didn’t recognize. Thanks.

  • Alex says:

    Agree with you in the most part. I thought O’Doul’s had the best balanced Manhattan Chowder and I thought Ramada was right up there for a New England Style Chowder. I rated Coast up there a bit more and thought the bold flavours stood up really well to the Central City IPA. Wild Rice was extremely disappointing as was PICA. I think Hapa was definitely around the top but they stretched the category a little and I had them in 2nd or 3rd. I thought their biggest plus was contrasting textures while O’Doul’s had a better layerd and balanced flavour in the actual broth. Codfathers market Ice Cream was brilliant in terms of tasting like a cracker but definitely overshadowed what was a mediocre chowder. Fun night of tasting and next time make sure taste all the beers as well:)

  • ariane c says:

    I did sample most of the beers with the chowders and agree that the Red Fish Blue Fish chowder was a powerful soup! Almost too spicy for my palate. It was hard to get all 12 chowders in, however I did manage 10!

    Great round-up article; thanks for posting!

    Hapa Izakaya’s and Codfather’s were my favourites.

  • Mijune says:

    @ Lee Ann Foster – wow thanks for the great comment! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! You did the thorough read too and not the “bold” one! thank you! I stayed up until 7:30am to do it, so I appreciate it. I meant Cortez too lol… sorry for the mistakes.

    @thesavvyboomer – I will do that for you right now! Thanks for reading.

    @Alex – you were there? Should have said hi! I didn’t know you were such a “foodie” yourself! Glad to know we more or less agree… now we can trust each other’s posts! 🙂

    @ariane c – awww you were so close!! 2 more!! Thank you for the comment!

  • Maria S. Nguyen says:

    This is such a good article, thank you for posting fo quickly after the event. What a great evening it was!

    The Hapa chowder had the best texture contrasts and I felt it was the thickest. It was the most interesting of the night and was enjoyable.

    Hands down for me though, the best tasting chowder of the evening was Savoury Chef, so I agree with your picks! It very well balanced, interesting and comforting, we came back for seconds.

    O’Douls was very high up the notch as well, they did win best pairing in my books for the storm Scottish ale. I will be there next year for sure.

  • Mijune says:

    @Maria S. Nguyen – thank you!! I tried to get the post up asap! Glad to see we’re on the same page! Yeah I think O’Doul’s did a fantastic job as well, considering I usually got for New England chowder instead of Manhattan’s. Thanks for your comment!

  • Elaine says:

    Hmmm that’s interesting because when I was at O’Doul’s once, I had their West Coast Seafood Chowder, but it literally taste like those ones you can get from can soups…and lukewarm too…but I suppose their Manhattan style is different…

  • Mijune says:

    @Elaine – The seafood chowder at the actual O’Doul’s restaurant is different from the ones they enter in the Ocean Wise Seafood ChowDown. That probably would help explain it 🙂 They really should serve the ones from the competition though because they’re great!

  • PICA "Chef" says:

    Would you mind entirely removing the PICA portion of the article?

  • Mijune says:

    @PICA “Chef” – Hi there, unfortunately I can’t remove anything from my blog posts unless it is false (in which case I will make appropriate edits). I only have my integrity as a blogger so I have to stay honest to the readers. I’m sorry if I wrote anything offensive and it was just my personal opinion, so I hope it’s taken with a grain of salt. Thank you for visiting.

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