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Chowder draws throng to MusselFest

Andreas Wurzrainer, chef and owner of Christopher’s on Whidbey, hopes to win the chowder contest during the 2009 Penn Cove Mussel Festival, March 6 through 8 in Coupeville. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Andreas Wurzrainer, chef and owner of Christopher’s on Whidbey, hopes to win the chowder contest during the 2009 Penn Cove Mussel Festival, March 6 through 8 in Coupeville.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Ten top chefs in Coupeville will engage in a heated competition this weekend to see who cooks the best mussel chowder.

And it should be really good mussel chowder. The competition is one of the highlights of the annual Penn Cove Mussel Festival, which is in its 22nd year of celebrating Whidbey Island’s popular mollusk.

Andreas Wurzrainer, chef and owner of Christopher’s on Whidbey, is the two-time defending champion. He won the contest last year with a mussel chowder made with smoked paprika and corn. The year before that, he won won with a New England-style chowder made with apples.

“It’s always fun to see their reaction,” Wurzrainer said of the chowder enthusiasts enjoying his contest entries.

He didn’t give any indication as to what’s in store for this year’s contest, maintaining that he hasn’t come up with this year’s chowder ingredients yet. Wurzrainer will decide his latest entry, which will come as a sort of a mussel epiphany, in the days leading up to the weekend-long mussel festival.

There’s sure to be a wide variety of chowders vying to become the festival’s best. In addition to Christopher’s, Toby’s Tavern, the Tyee, Miriam’s Espresso, the Pizza Factory, The Cove, Anna’s Tea Room, the Oystercatcher, Kim’s Cafe and the Mad Crab are all creating chowder for the competition.

The Penn Cove Mussel Festival provides a weekend’s worth of fun for the whole family.

“I guess we’re trying to make a big deal out of it this year,” said Cindy Olson, owner of Aqua on Front Street, who is helping organize the festival.

Approximately 5,000 people attended last year’s Penn Cove Mussel Festival.

The event begins Friday, March 6, at 5:30 p.m. with the Mussel Mingle held in the Coupeville Recreation Hall, where brats, mussels, beer and wine will be on the menu.

A full day’s worth of activities are on tap for Saturday including mussel cooking demonstrations, a mussel eating competition and and a variety of children’s activities at the museum.

The Mystic Sea, which is equipped with an underwater camera, will provide tours of the famous Penn Cove mussel farm and the Cutty Sark will provide two-hour tours of Penn Cove. Find a ride at the Coupeville Wharf.

The Penn Cove Shellfish Mussel and Beer Garden will be open Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. A number of bands will perform at the beer garden, among them Marcus Whiting, Tiller’s Folley, The Steve Trembley Band, and Dillinger’s Clambake.

Festival-goers can sample the mussel chowder both Saturday and Sunday, with tickets costing $7.

The Island County Museum will offer an exhibit titled, “And the Band Played On,” which features musical instruments, photos and music from when every community had its own bands.

The festival has it’s own headquarters, which is located at the Coupeville Wharf, and a free mussel shuttle will be available Saturday and Sunday.

The Penn Cove Mussel Festival is sponsored by Penn Cove Shellfish, the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association, Platt and Buescher — Attorneys at Law and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. The festival is also getting support from the Whidbey Island Winery.

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