A dozen of the city's top chefs are poised to take seafood chowder to a whole new place: Asia.
The winner of last year's Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown - a dashi halibut chowder from Hapa Izakaya chef Ben Berwick - had more than a few Asian twists on board. Bonito fish flakes and kombu kelp figure prominently in the flavour profile.
Throw in a little sake and soy, and Berwick took one of the most traditional soups in the world to a new address altogether.
Chester Velas, a chef in training at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, has a few twists of his own to spring on this year's judges, including Asian staples such as coconut milk, ginger, lemon grass and green chili.
Velas's chowder was selected by executive chef Julian Bond to represent the school from among 12 recipes submitted by advanced culinary students at PICA.
"We really asked the students to think outside the box and not be bound by the traditional red or white chowders, and they were very creative," said Bond. "This dish was inspired by my grandmother," said Velas, who comes from the Philippines. His roasted butternut squash and Dungeness crab chowder blends North American and Asian traditional flavours in a completely new way, he said. And although his chowder is white, it contains no cream.
Velas ran through the cooking process five times before settling on the recipe, and has practised another five times since.
Not all the chefs are expected to jet their chowder off to the tropics. The traditional New England white chowder with cream and bacon and Manhattan red chowder both remain popular, more than 100 years after gaining widespread favour.
Indeed, 2009's winning recipe for smoked corn and scallop chowder from Go Fish! contains all the flavour notes you'd expect to find in a white chowder, right down to the bacon and bay leaves.
All 12 competing chefs are from Ocean Wise restaurants, meaning that as much as possible, they source their seafood ingredients from ocean-friendly sustainable fisheries. This year's Chowder Chowdown will be held at the aquarium on Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $40.
The Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise website (oceanwise.ca) includes a comprehensive list of seafoods that are considered sustainable as well as those that are not.
TWELVE TOP CHEFS WILL COMPETE FOR THE CHOWDER CHOWDOWN CHAMPIONSHIP:
Eric Pless - Coast Restaurant
Tyler Groenestyn - Codfathers Seafood Market
Jennifer Dodd - Edible Canada Daiji Tanaka - Hapa Izakaya Kitsilano Paul Cecconi - Local Lounge-Grille
Nicholas Crooks - The Noodle Box Chris Whittaker - O'Douls Restaurant and Bar
Chester Velas - Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts
Natasha Harris - Sunset Bay Yacht Group Ron Gibb - Westward Ho! Public House and Grill Room at the University Golf Club
Myke Shaw and Kelsey Timler - Vancouver Aquarium
Ned Bell - Yew restaurant + bar at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver
HALIBUT DASHI CHOWDER
This is the 2010 Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Champion recipe. It is from Hapa Izakaya, and has been modified for the home cook. Go to vancouversun.com/food on Nov. 24 to see the 2011 winning recipe.
½ medium onion, coarsely chopped
½ carrot, coarsely chopped
¼ fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
1 piece konbu, about 3-4 inches long
1 cup bonito flakes, lightly packed
¼ teaspoon (.5 mL) peppercorns
1 sprig parsley
½ bay leaf
4 cups (1 L) water
3 tablespoons (45 mL) butter
5 tablespoons (75 mL) allpurpose flour
1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
½ small onion, diced to about
1 carrot, cut in ¼-inch (.5 cm) dice
1 medium new potato, cut in ½-inch (1 cm) dice
½ pound (227 g) firm white fish such as halibut or cod, cut in 1-inch pieces
½ pound (227 g) sea scallops, cut in 1-inch pieces if needed
2 tablespoons (30 mL) sake
2 teaspoons (30 mL) light soy sauce
½ cup (125 mL) whipping cream
¾ teaspoon (1.5 mL) salt
¼ teaspoon (1.5 mL) shichimi powder
4 slices bacon, diced, fried until crisp and drained
Thinly sliced green onions or chopped parsley
Stock: Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil in a large pot. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, drain and discard the solids.
Cream sauce: Melt the butter, add the flour and cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Gradually whisk in the stock, stirring quickly and cook over medium high heat until the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for a few minutes. Set aside.
Fish: Melt the butter over medium heat. Add the vegetables and sauté for 4-5 minutes. Add the seafood and continue to sauté, stirring gently for 2 minutes.
Add the sake, cover and continue to cook over moderate heat until the fish is almost cooked and the vegetables are soft, another 4-5 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of water if it is too dry and sticks. Add the seafood to the sauce mix, stir in the soy sauce, whipping cream, shichimi powder, salt.
Heat until hot, taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper (preferably white pepper), if needed.
Garnish the soup with the reserved bacon, green onions/ parsley, and your favourite croutons.