Penn Cove Mussel Festival chowder contest all tied up

Christy Reid of Christopher’s Cafe readies the restaurant’s smoked salmon and mussels during the Penn Cove Mussel Festival.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Christy Reid of Christopher’s Cafe readies the restaurant’s smoked salmon and mussels during the Penn Cove Mussel Festival.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

A first for the venerable chowder contest at Coupeville’s Penn Cove Mussel Festival left the community shell-shocked. After several recounts, Mosquito Fleet Chili and Coupeville Coffee and Bistro garnered the same number of votes during the weekend-long competition --- earning a first place tie.

Over the weekend, 14 restaurants in and around Coupeville cooked up their best chowder and put it to the taste test as food enthusiasts from on and off Whidbey Island came to name the best.

“I’m really happy with that,” Coupeville Coffee and Bistro owner June Blouin said Monday of the tie, adding that she was happy two simple restaurants managed to sway voters’ tastes.

Blouin prepared a green curry mussel chowder that combined Asian and American traditions. The 2012 contest marked the first time she participated in the mussel festival. Her bistro opened in July 2011.

Mosquito Fleet Chili prepared a Pervuvian shrimp and corn chowder that was altered a bit to include mussels.

Cindy Olson, owner of Aqua Gifts, who coordinated the 2012 Mussel Festival for the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association, said it was great that 14 restaurants --- basically every eatery in Coupeville --- participated in the mussel chowder contest.

Ebey Bowl in 2011 won the chowder contest during its first try in the competition. And chowder heads were walking through the birthday parties and celebrations taking place at the small bowling alley to sample its 2012 entry.

It seems the Penn Cove Mussel Festival was a successful event last weekend with thousands of people visiting Coupeville for the first major event of 2012.

“I’m so impressed with the way everybody involved with the festival pulls it off,” said Rita Tomayko, owner of Mosquito Fleet Chili.

Friday night kicked off the weekend with the Mussel Mingle, which is geared toward Whidbey residents with a fun evening of food and music.

Saturday, the field near the library filled with cars and people browsed the shops and various restaurants serving bowls full of the popular mollusk.

Penn Cove Shellfish operated a beer garden Saturday across the street from the Coupville Recreation Hall, while chefs from as far away as Seattle impressed visitors with cooking demonstrations in the Recreation Hall, which doubled as Mussel Headquarters.

Two mussel eating contests were held, one on each day. Moxee, Wash. resident Reid Lundgren showed some moxie and won the competition Saturday. The Yakima County resident and Sunday’s winner, Seattle resident Gina Blancaflor, showed they can eat the most mussels of anyone attending the festival.

Tours of the Penn Cove Shellfish mussel beds took place throughout the weekend from the pier at the Coupeville Wharf. In addition, children’s activities were scheduled at the museum, and the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce held a popular scavenger hunt known as the Mussel Hustle.

Olson said it was difficult to provide an accurate number of people enjoying the early March festival, but she estimated the crowd at approximately 5,000 people. People enjoyed the festival Sunday despite the drizzly conditions.

The Penn Cove Mussel Festival marks the first event of the season in the Central Whidbey town.

A celebration of Native American culture is on tap May 19 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the Penn Cove Water Festival. The celebration is highlighted by canoe races, featuring competitors representing tribes throughout the Salish Sea region.

For more information about the Penn Cove Mussel Festival, visit www.penncovemussel


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