Chef Mitchell Jackson Takes First Place

Claddagh Oyster House chef wins 2017 PEI Potato Chowder Competition at PEI International Shellfish Festival

If you think the PEI International Shellfish Festival is about gorging on oysters and mussels, while listening to some of the biggest talents on the East Coast, you wouldn’t be wrong, but you’d only be partially right. The Festival, which celebrated its 22nd anniversary this year, also featured several industry competitions that attract chefs, shuckers, and other food folk from near and far. This year, I had the privilege of being a judge for the PEI Potato Chowder Competition, which saw 16 Island chefs competing for the title of Best PEI Potato Chowder.

While I’d never judged a culinary competition before in my life, I was confident that my taste buds were up to the task still I figured soliciting advice from a veteran judge could be useful. Plus it gave me an excuse to sit down with the always charming and inspiring chef Ilona Daniel, who was returning for her fourth year as a judge of the annual competition.

“You have to pace yourself. Chowder’s an amazing thing and you get so excited at the prospect of having to eat all this chowder, but chowder is a rich, decadent dish so you really have to take your time and just be mindful,” Daniel said. “And don’t eat breakfast.”

Our judging duties involve being on-site at the Festival for two heats, the first taking place Saturday afternoon (Sept 16) and the second on Sunday afternoon (Sept 17). There are six of us in total—three Island folks and three visiting guests. Alex Docherty of the PEI Potato Board rounds out the Island contingent, while chef Chris MacAdam of Sysco, professional eater Ayngelina Brogan of Loka restaurant in Toronto, and food writer Necee Regis are the visiting judges.

The PEI Potato Chowder judges (l-r): Ayngelina Brogan, Alex Docherty, Chef Ilona Daniel, Shannon Courtney, Chris MacAdam, Necee Regis

We’re seated around a u-shaped table in a room behind the main stage, intentionally separated from the competitors’ on-stage chowder preparations. At each table setting are a stack of scoring sheets with four main categories: Flavour, Consistency, Appearance, and Overall Appeal.
As I review the scoring criteria, I’m glad I solicited tips from Ilona, whose knowledge as a chef puts her in a whole different league than me, a mere chowder enthusiast.

“You want to look for things like acidity. Seasoning is really important, because cream is really rich you need a little to extra salt really carry the flavour,” Ilona said. “I like big chunks of seafood, that’s what everyone wants. [And] lots of potatoes and I’m not a huge fan of when people don’t peel potatoes. Like they’ll use baby potatoes and you can do it, but it’s kind of lazy. So you want nice Russet potatoes, peel them and take the time, show them some love.”

With that solid advice in mind, I assume my role as chowder judge. And boy have the chefs gone all out to impress, with stunning garnishes including a lobster grilled cheese and a giant clam shell stuffed with lobster and scallops. But it’s the chowder itself that has to leave an impression. Showcasing PEI seafood is imperative, as is the marriage of ingredients, a clean flavour, and creativity.

The variety of flavours and presentations is impressive—there’s a saffron and lemon-infused chowder, one that requires ‘some assembly’, and a smoky chowder that leaves me wanting more. But I remind myself of Ilona’s advice. We’re in a chowder marathon, not a sprint!

Each heat delivers some mighty fine bowls that I want to recreate at home or, more accurately, have someone else recreate for my eating pleasure. With the second heat under our belts (or in my case, under my wisely selected stretchy pants), we need only wait to learn who the winner is. At this point it should be noted that I’m still not fully apprised of which chefs/restaurants were competing—it was truly a blind taste test.

Finally Alex Docherty is invited to the main stage to represent the competition’s sponsor, the PEI Potato Board, and the winners are announced. In third place is Erin Henry of Piatto Pizzeria & Enoteca, in second place is Alyssa Cooper of HopYard and in first place….wait for it…Mitchell Jackson of the Claddagh Oyster House!

Congratulations to all the competitors on their efforts to create the Best PEI Potato Chowder and to Mitchell Jackson for winning the day. I do hope I’m invited back to judge again next year!

 

The Winning Recipe | Yield: 10 to 12 servings

½ lb butter
¾ cup all purpose flour
1 yellow onion; diced
1 carrot; diced
¼ turnip; diced
1½ lbs Yukon gold potatoes; par boiled and diced     
½ lb butternut squash; diced
2 cobs of corn; kernels removed
1 cup white wine
2 litres fish stock
1 litre 35% cream
½ lbs salmon
½ lbs halibut
1½ lbs mussels; steamed and shelled
1½ lbs soft shell clams; steamed and shelled
½ lbs lobster meat, chopped

To Taste: Salt and white pepper

To Garnish: Chives, parsley, red pepper, chili oil, and lobster grilled cheese (optional)

Directions:
1. In a skillet, steam mussels and clams in white wine (Save liquid).

2. In a large pot melt butter over medium high heat.

3. Add celery, onions and carrots and cook for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent.

4. In a separate skillet; boil potatoes and turnip together in fish stock—cook until halfway done and drain. (Save fish stock).

5. Add flour to celery mixture and cook for 5 minutes on low heat.

6. Add fish stock and white wine liquid SLOWLY and whisk to combine.

7. Add 35% cream and bring to light simmer.

8. Add corn, squash, salmon, halibut, mussels and clams—cook on low heat for 10 minutes.

9. Season with salt and pepper.

10. Just before serving add lobster, chives, parsley, red pepper and celery leaves.

11. Ladle into serving vessels and top with chili oil.

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon oversees all content creation for Salty and may be ‘slightly’ obsessed with proper apostrophe usage. When she’s not writing about food, she’s either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a holistic-nutritionist-in-training and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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