Text and photos by Connie Leinbach
“It feels like I’m tasting the ocean,” said at least two visitors at the Clam Chowder Cook-off Saturday in the Ocracoke Community Center.
They were talking about the five entries in the traditional chowder category in this second-year fundraiser to benefit the Ocracoke Child Care Center. There were there entries in the non-traditional category.
Close to 120 attendees sampled the soups and voted on their favorites, choosing the Corkey’s Store entry (with 35 votes) as best traditional and WOVV 90.1 FM’s entry as best non-traditional (with 49 votes).
Ocracoke Preservation Society (OPS) received runner-up in traditional and Jason’s Restaurant got runner-up for non-traditional.
Jenny Mason, owner of Corkey’s Store, said her father, Charles, had made the chowder.
Her brother, Shane, had harvested the clams fresh, and that, she said, was the key to their chowder.
“Fresh clams, water, how much bacon, which potatoes to use—red or white…” she explained. All of these decisions factor into the final product.
She said her father, who doesn’t like to attend public gatherings, would be so pleased to get the one-of-a-kind “Golden Clammy” trophy created by island artist Susan Dodd.
“He and Susan are BFFs,” Jenny said, adding that she will display the trophy in her store along Creek Road.
Deborah Wells, who made the prize-winning non-traditional chowder for WOVV, said her personal favorite version is New England style.
“Fundamentally, the recipe is the same as the Ocracoke traditional style, but with the addition of flour, butter and cream at the end,” she said. “This gives the broth a bit more richness and body, and I really like that.”
Voters did, too.
“I didn’t realize there were so many different chowders,” said Pam Simmons of mainland Hyde about the traditional soups. With her family, she attended the cook-off for the first time.
She and her family conferred before voting, she said.
“We all voted differently,” she said.
Rebecca Worth of Richmond, Va., remarked on how different the five traditional chowders were.
“The Post Office entry had a distinct smoky flavor,” she explained. “Chester’s was a little saltier and the one by the OPS had less salt.”
She echoed Ben Waldman of Greensboro, who also said, “it tastes like the ocean,” as he downed a cup of the OPS entry.
“I’m happy and full of fat and grease,” gushed Laurie Berner Garrish after she had tasted and voted.
Ellie Libby, who’s been visiting Ocracoke since mid-January, said she wanted to vote for all of the entries.
So did Earl Pugh Jr, of Lake Landing, mainland Hyde, who is chair of the county board of commissioners.
“There were no losers,” he said.
Others who entered chowders were Sharon Brodisch for the Cove B&B; Chester Lynn; Celeste Brooks, Ocracoke’s postmaster; and Gaffer’s Sports Pub.
The fundraiser netted about $2,200 for the Child Care Center, said Bob Kremser, treasurer.
The center reopened March 21 under the new directorship of DeAnna Locke after having been closed for the season since last fall.
Chaeli Moyer, who has been the director since 2014, left the position in January to pursue other opportunities.
Under Moyer’s leadership, the center regained financial solvency, renovated the building and upgraded the program, said Amy Johnson, board of directors’ president, at a community meeting March 2.
Last fall, the center achieved five-star rating—the highest level awarded by the state the licensing agency, and was approved to operate on a seasonal basis.
Parents interested in enrolling their children this year are asked to call the center.
Volunteers are needed at the center especially in the spring before summer staff arrive.
Interested persons should call 252-928-4131 for information.