By Connie Leinbach
When Austin Daniel decides to cook “outside the box,” it’s usually a winner, which is what happened Oct. 14 at the Clam Chowder Cookoff in the Ocracoke Community Center.
Daniel, who owns Stockroom Streetfood, cooked a chowder that bested the nine other “innovative” chowders entered into the fundraiser for the Ocracoke Community Pool Association.
Among the flavors in his chowder, dubbed “Shut Your Clam Mouth,” were coconut milk, sweet potatoes, red curry and Kafir lime leaves.
“We did a lot of research,” he said, referring to his wife, Mysha Sissine, who also submitted a chowder, “Clam, You Look Good.”
Stockroom Streetfood has a decidedly Asian influence.
So, for Daniel’s chowder, he used the same pantry but just pushed it in a different direction.
Daniel’s creativity led to runner-up honors in the innovative category this year with fig popsicles, a la Mexican paletas, in the Fig Cake Bakeoff during the Fig Festival in August.
Last year, he won the innovative category with a savory plate of fish (cobia) and figs.
“These competitions are nice,” he said. “It’s like a test kitchen. It challenges you and you get to support the community.”
He said that patrons might see his award-winning clam chowder again this winter when his take-out restaurant will be open for breakfast and lunch, from 8 a.m. to noon.
For a bonus, he and Sissine also won the raffle for a week’s stay at a Daytona Beach, Fla., condo.
As for the two traditional entries, it was a contest between O’cockers Howard and O’Neal, as Philip Howard’s traditional stew topped that of Charlie O’Neal.
“I’m doing this to have a pool for the kids,” O’Neal said. “I don’t care if I win.”
Howard’s soup, however, captured the top prize, the same as it did when the contest was first launched in 2015, created by Ruth Toth to benefit Ocracoke Child Care.
“I make it just like O’cockers always made it,” he quipped. That is, after you cook all the bacon, you include it and all the bacon drippings in the soup.
“All the bacon might have something to do with it,” he said.
He said he had a great time serving the soup alongside his former student O’Neal.
A crowd of locals and visitors happily slurped samples of the soups before casting their votes for the best.
Ruth and Ken Hunter, camping at the NPS campground and because of the rain, could not cook out, enjoyed tasting the entries.
Terri and Matt Albright of Chesapeake visiting Ocracoke for their 34th wedding anniversary happened to see the sign outside the Community Center.
“I’m a huge clam chowder man,” Matt said after tasting all of the soups.
Toth, president of the pool association, revived the contest this year as another fundraiser toward her goal of having a community pool.
Island artist Susan Dodd once again created her signature, one-of-a-kind trophies for the winners, which were determined by all those who sampled the soups.
“We owe a huge debt to everyone who made a chowder and all the merchants who donated items,” she said. “I’m so appreciative. Without those people cooking this could not have happened.”