By Natasha Ashenhurst
Chowder has a history that is centuries old. Coastal England and France had chowders made of milk and fish. New Englanders transformed those fish-based stews, replacing the fish with clams, plentiful in the region. According to food historian, Linda Stradley, writer Lydia Maria Child provides the first written directions to replace fish with clams in her bestseller of the day, “The American Frugal Housewife,” published in 1832. She also proposed the addition of lemons, beer and “tomato catsup.”
Dan Moore, restaurant manager of Lacey’s FireCreek Grill & Ale House, and two-time winner of the Port of Olympia’s Chowder Challenge, would adamantly disagree with Child’s recipe, preferring the pared-down simplicity of the traditional New England Chowder. “The secret of great chowder is to keep it simple,” he said. “Our chowder is nice and thick and tastes like clams.”
Fatso’s Bar & Grill part owner, Chelsi Yarger Weedon describes their chowder. “We use a recipe passed down from my husband’s grandmother,” she said. “It is creamy and hardy and includes bacon, which people either love or hate.” The small, family-run restaurant on Martin Way prides itself on homemade food. “The Chowder Challenge is a great opportunity to get out into the community and give people a chance to try our food. Plus, we have a lot of fun at the event, and enjoy meeting other business owners and tasting their chowder,” Weedon said.
On Saturday, May 17, chowder lovers will have the opportunity to taste FireCreek and Fatso’s chowders, along with chowder from ten other restaurants. The event is the Port of Olympia’s Boatswap and Chowder Challenge at Swantown Marina.
The Boatswap begins at 10:00 a.m., but the Chowder Challenge will not begin until 12:30 p.m. Here is how it works: From 12:30 until 2:00 p.m., the chowder will flow. Tasters pay $5 to receive a commemorative tasting mug and a token. Participants can have as many tastes as they want until the chowder runs out, then they will use their token to vote for their favorite chowder. At 2:15 p.m., Port officials will announce the winners of the People’s Choice and Chef’s Choice awards.
Twelve local restaurants are competing for your vote: Falls Terrace Restaurant, Fatso’s Bar and Grill, FireCreek Grill, Fish Tale Brewpub, Lady of the Lake Public House, Little Creek Casino & Resort, Lucky Eagle Casino, Paprika Catering, Pints & Quarts Westside, Red Lion Hotel Olympia, South Bay Pub & Eatery and The Westside Tavern.
Another award restaurants compete for is the best-decorated booth. “This is a great way to make the event more fun and visually entertaining,” said Jennie Foglia-Jones, the Port’s marketing and community relations coordinator.
The event began in 1997 and continued for eleven years until construction at the Port took over some of the facility space. The Port brought the event back in 2013 to the delight of those who looked forward to it every year.
This year, like in years past, there is something for everyone. “This event is much more than the Chowder Challenge, though that is the big draw. We also have many community vendors participating, tons of free activities for kids, including a bounce house and other inflatables, face painting, and a trout pond. The main stage will feature music from the Raucous Band, and we’ll also have lots of barbeque, sandwiches and coffee available for folks who don’t like chowder,” said Foglia-Jones.
The Boatswap is the other big draw of the event, and it is just what it sounds like. “It is about selling boats and gear. We’ll have boats on land and boats in the water,” said Foglia-Jones. There will be showboats to tour, such as the Sand Man, a 60-foot tugboat from the early 1900s and a Budd Inlet treasure.
The public is welcome to sign up for a space to sell gear, boats, motors, dinghies, and any other boat related items.
“We expect a well-attended event for boating enthusiasts and their families. We encourage folks to take the day and explore Swantown and the East Bay neighborhood which includes the Hands On Children’s Museum and LOTT’s WET Science Center,” said Foglia-Jones.
You can find the 2014 Boatswap and Chowder Challenge at Swantown Marina located at the East Bay of Budd Inlet at 1022 Marine Drive NE in Olympia. Free parking is available at lots along Marine Drive, then hop on a free shuttle to the event.
Saturday, May 17
10:00 am – 3:00 pm