The Floathouse’s winning chowder team Gerry Bernard, Rachel Locking, Udo Lerch, Heather Costerton, Colin Kiss, Shannon Bernard served up their prize winner to stoked local chowder enthusiast Rich Parlee during the West Coast’s annual Chowder Chow Down competition on Sunday. (Andrew Bailey, Westerly News)

Pacific Rim Whale Festival’s Chowder Chow Down a delicious success in Ucluelet

“It was a fabulous event for the Food Bank.”

The West Coast has crowned a new chowder king.

Ucluelet’s Floathouse Patio and Grill took home both the People’s and Judge’s Choice trophies from this year’s Chowder Chow Down competition held on Sunday afternoon.

The People’s choice award is chosen by event-goers who vote for the restaurant that produced their favourite chowder. The Judge’s Choice is chosen by a blind tasting where a panel of judges tastes each chowder while remaining unaware of which restaurant created it.

The winning offering that had the people and judges singing the same tune was a cream-based sea food chowder featuring salmon, cod, clams, fresh garlic, dill and other seasonings, according to Chef Udo Lerch of Floathouse. This was Lerch’s second appearance at the competition and his first victory.

“I was happy to be a part of it and just fortunate enough to win with all the other massive chefs around here,” he told the Westerly News immediately after being announced the winner.

“I’ll be definitely displaying the trophy and letting people know that we have the best chowder around. You’ve got to have some bragging rights.”

He said his winning chowder is the same one Floathouse dishes out daily.

“That’s our everyday chowder,” he said. “I love it.”

Lerch was stoked to see so many chowder enthusiasts digging in during the competition, which is an annual fundraiser for the West Coast’s Food Bank on the Edge Society.

“It was a fabulous event for the Food Bank. It was a great turnout. I saw a lot of people and a lot of tourists,” he said. “It was just a fabulous event for Ucluelet.”

The Food Bank on the Edge Society’s executive director Cris Martin was delighted to see the popular annual event flow smoothly.

“It’s going fantastic,” she told the Westerly adding she had received tons of comments throughout the day about how smoothly the competition was running and how efficiently the lineup was rolling through.

“There’s better traffic control, less headaches waiting; it’s awesome. My crew has done a great job and we’re just thrilled.”

The Chow Down is the Food Bank’s first fundraiser of the year and an important funding source for the vital organization that helps dish out much-needed nourishment to locals throughout the West Coast.

“About a fourth of our budget for the year comes out of this, so it’s a big one for us,” she said.

She added the annual event offers a solid opportunity for Tofino and Ucluelet locals to get together and enjoy themselves alongside the West Coast’s visitors.

“It’s great to know people are walking away with a happy belly,” she said. “There’s great chowders this year…There’s plenty of chowder for everybody and everybody seems to be enjoying all of the chowders. They are having a blast.”

Lerch accepted his People’s and Judge’s Choice trophies from 2016’s champion Chef Brad DeClercq of Port Alberni’s Starboard Grill, who had also won both the People’s and Judge’s honours last year. DeClercq, a two-time Chow Down champion, was unable to participate this year as the competition was chopped down to West Coast chefs only.

Martin explained eight local restaurants competed this year and, while DeClercq had been grandfathered onto the competition’s roster as a former local, the Food Bank received other applications from out-of-town restaurants and didn’t have the space to accommodate non-locals.

“We will always, now, stick to it being a strictly West Coast event between Tofino and Ucluelet,” Martin said.

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly during the event that she was having a “terrific time,” watching Tofino and Ucluelet locals share the eating experience.

“The best thing about Chowder Chow Down, is that it brings all of these people together from all over the world, but really Tofino and Ucluelet is the best part for me, and we eat terrific food,” she said.

“We should definitely be proud of our food culture on the West Coast. There are no other small towns that I’ve ever been to that have the kind of diversity and quality of food that Tofino and Ucluelet have.”

She added she supported the Food Bank’s decision to limit the contest to local competitors.

“I’m sure it was a really hard decision to make but, when you begin to open it up to other places, you risk maybe losing a bit of the West Coast edge. So, yes, I support their decision to have only Tofino and Ucluelet and points in between,” she said. “I think we should celebrate all of our local chefs.”

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