Long Beach Island’s signature Chowderfest Weekend sends compliments to the chef as it hits a milestone on September 29-30 2018. Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce salutes restaurants, volunteers and the voters all of who made three decades of champions possible
It has been said that good food is the genuine foundation of happiness, that may be why Chowderfest has always be so well grounded. From legions of dedicated “Chowderhead” supporters that span over a generation, to talented chefs and restaurateurs that perfect award winning recipes that have helped shape culinary legends. The story of Chowderfest begins with a core group of volunteers and business owners who were active with Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce in the 1980s. They saw the need to expand the season to continue to bring crowds into local shops, restaurants and lodging. The concept of the Chowderfest Cook Off was developed before the popularity of restaurant throw downs and consumer driven commentary. Pop Culture has allowed the format of the Chowderfest Cook Off Classic to become a reality show that plays out in real time that all ticket holders and chowder maestros work in harmony to make happen.
Chowderfest Weekend has become a holiday for those who love the shore, delicious food and the excitement of a competition unfolding before them. Last year 15000 attendees enjoyed live music, entertainment and filled the tents where the true showmanship of chefs and their kitchen crews served over 3000 gallons of creative seafood, red and white chowders. The alchemy of what is happening on and around the Chowderfest grounds, has enough magnetism to draw an estimated 200,000 people back to the region to partake of the energy. It is the post Labor Day swan song of summer that eludes many other resort areas. With businesses generating some of their highest grossing sales of the season, driving demand for mid-summer rates and pricing. The weekend has become a reunion for friends, and family to celebrate the beginning the fall and connect with their favorite restaurants, watering holes and retailers. Activities swirl as patrons can take in special performances, fundraisers, and sidewalk sales choreographed around the main event. Locals are shoulder to shoulder with guests who have traveled from across the country to join the joyous atmosphere and familiar flavor of the weekend that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
The ritual of this weekend, began when John Maschal of Bay Village, saw an opportunity to find a home for a New England style festival on LBI. Under the leadership of longstanding Chowderfest Chairman, Frank Panzone of Panzone’s Pizza, the event took shape and grew from a handful of competitors to the iconic event that has been rated one of the top food festivals on the east coast. The Chowderfest Committee saw the demand to extend their success and created a free admission Merchant Mart to take place the Saturday before the ticketed Cook Off which is held on Sunday. This allowed retailer members to sell their end of season wares to the growing crowds.
For the 30th, chowder connoisseurs will find many of favorites and champions that have graced the Chowderfest Hall of Fame consistently including Chicken or the Egg, Stefano’s Restaurant, Country Kettle Chowda, Buckalew’s Restaurant & Tavern, Howard’s Seafood, and Blue Water Cafe. This special anniversary brings enthusiastic support from contestants that add a newer twist to the traditional such as Lefty’s Tavern, Cuisine on the Green, La Bamba, Delaware Oyster House, Sunny Rae’s , Tucker’s Tavern with a first ever international competitor, the Chowder Champion Nancy’s of Ireland. A fresh line up of multiple musical acts, beverages on tap, merchants, food court specialties and family activities round out both days.
The aspect that it is a community event, cannot be overlooked as each year, 300 volunteers take on the task of serving food, pouring beer, keeping the competing restaurants supplied, selling tickets, merchandise, garbage removal and so much more. Volunteers return year after year, cheering on the chowder tasters as well as the restaurants. Proceeds of Chowderfest has supported hundreds of nonprofit projects, used to market tourism and operate a year round visitor center and provide scholarships to three local high schools. In honor for the 30th, last year’s restaurants voted on a qualified nonprofit to be the first ever Chowder for A Cause partner charity. This year David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation will be collaborating with Todd Elsasser, the Chowderfest Coordinator and Southern Ocean Chamber Board Members to raise funds through the spirit of the event to benefit those living through the catastrophic costs of cancer recovery.
It is also in close partnership with the Borough of Beach Haven, the Beach Haven Police, first responders, Ocean County Sheriff, fire and health inspectors that keep the safety of everyone involved a top priority. Under the supervision of Elsasser and many longtime volunteer “Captains” who serve on the Chowderfest Committee, the festival continues to evolve to bring the best of what the region offers to the world in a busy two day feast for the senses. Thanks also goes to long time sponsors of the event which includes The Sandpaper, Sysco, Ritchie & Page, TD Bank, Bud light, Ocean County Board of Freeholders and NJ Division of Travel and Tourism.
Raise your glass, and come down the last weekend in September to celebrate. Tickets are needed for Sunday’s Cook Off Classic and can be purchased on chowderfest.com or at the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center at 265 W Ninth Street in Ship Bottom. VIP tickets are available for early entry, as well as General Admission and Children ages 4-12. Free parking near the event, complimentary shuttle service will be available on Sunday and the Downtown Driven Water Ferry service between Tuckerton and Beach Haven all weekend is also being planned. Stay updated by following The Official LBI Chowderfest facebook page or call over to the chamber office at 609 494 7211.