All Ireland Chowder Cook-off Crowns a Champion in Kinsale Nancy’s Barn of Ballyliffen, Co Donegal won the title of All-Ireland Chowder Champion at the 6th annual All-Ireland Chowder Cook-Off sponsored by Cóna in Kinsale, Co Cork on Sunday 24th April. Some 25 professional chefs from all over the country converged on Ireland’s “gourmet capital”, the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way.
The All-Ireland Chowder Cook-Off, which is sponsored by Clóna (with media partners Cork Independent and Red FM), took place in a marquee on the lawn at Acton’s Hotel on the seafront. Cork Gas graciously sponsored the event with gas for the competitors. It was the highlight of a two-day food festival, hosted by the town’s Good Food Circle, an association of local restaurants. The best chowder was judged by the ticket holders, many of whom had traveled from all over Ireland to support their competing chef. Around 1000 people sampled a variety of delicious chowders, noting their preferences on a card before casting their vote. Competition among the chefs was intense, with variations on the classic chowder, and imaginative baking adding to the fun.
The Strand Hotel, Limerick topped their chowder with a lobster mousse, genuine Waterford Blas were on offer with the chowder from Tramore’s Olive Café, while Fitzpatrick’s of Co Louth served theirs with a sweetcorn and potato croquette and a slice of Guinness and honey bread. Secret ingredients included Angostura Bitters at Packie’s of Kenmare, and soya salt in Galway’s King’s Head chowder. Breads, freshly baked that morning, were available in abundance, from traditional soda bread to home-baked dulse scones served with kelp pesto (Thyme & Co Café, Ballycastle, Co Antrim) and other innovative combinations.
The wonderful aroma as hundreds of litres of delicious chowder, many garnished with fresh shellfish, were served to the public was part of a unique and memorable event. Bunratty Manor, Co Clare, last year’s winners, defended their title robustly, while famous seafood bars and restaurants from all over Ireland offered serious challenges. At the top of many lists were the chowder from The Rising Tide from Glounthane, Cork, King Sitric from Howth, The Belle Isle Cookery School from Fermanagh, Gleesons of Roscommon, the Pernod-scented chowder from Bastion, Kinsale’s newest Bib Gourmand restaurant, and the beautifully garnished tray from former winners, Fitzpatrick’s Bar and Restaurant from Louth, and of course, Nancy’s Barn’s slightly spicy, Spanish-inspired chowder.
In the event, the margins were tight at the final count, with Fitzpatrick’s of Louth taking third place, Paul McDonald and Helen Noonan of Bastion, Kinsale took second place, only four votes behind the winner, Nancy’s Barn of Ballyliffen, Co Donegal, All-Ireland Chowder Champion 2016. Owner-chef Kieran Duey will travel to Newport, Rhode Island, Kinsale’s twin town, in summer 2017 as a guest chef. Nancy’s Barn had already won Donegal Chowder Champion 2015 in Killybegs last September, and Kieran and his team were bowled over by this second victory. “I never thought I’d win,” he said, “It was great just to come here and cook, I can’t believe we’ve won!” The modest young chef and his team, whose informal coffee shop is a popular venue with visitors to nearby Pollen Beach, were a popular choice, raising many a cheer from the crowd.
The Donegal Chowder Champion was accompanied by Eve-Anne McCarron of Food Coast of Donegal, an initiative of the Local Enterprise Office to promote good food in Donegal, and sponsors of the Donegal Chowder Cook-off in Killybegs. “We are thrilled at Kieran Duey and Nancy’s Barn winning the All-Ireland Chowder Cook-off. It’s a great victory for Donegal seafood,” she said. MC Martin Shanahan of Kinsale’s Fishy Fishy, told the assembled chefs and their teams that they were all winners, for travelling to Kinsale at their own expense and putting on such a fine display of seafood. “It is a great day for seafood, a great day for chowder, and a great day for everybody,” he said.
The winner also received the Derek Davis Perpetual Trophy, named in memory of the event’s original compere, who presided over the event in his inimitable style last year, shortly before his untimely demise. The trophy was commissioned from Kinsale Silver especially for the All Ireland Chowder Cook-Off, and designed and made in their Market Street premises.
The All-Ireland Chowder Cook-Off was the highlight of a lively two-day Family Festival that transformed the quays and streets of Kinsale into a bustling street-food market on the Saturday as they hosted the Taste the Wild Atlantic Way Street Food Festival, an open-air street market with food stalls, live music and family fun. Local businesses offered samples and take-home food for under €5, in a fun and festive atmosphere, with something for all age groups. Liam Edwards, Chairman of Kinsale Good Food Circle said, ‘The All-Ireland Chowder Cook-Off and the Taste the Wild Atlantic Way Street Food Festival have become a popular event on the town’s busy calendar, recalling Kinsale’s long tradition of fishing for seafood, and showcasing it in our restaurants.