“Steamy bowls of rich creamy justice” were doled out in the trial of Fred Quimby when the iconic debate ensued on The Simpsons between a French waiter and the Mayor’s son. Is the correct pronunciation: shaow-dare or chowda! Either way, there can be no debate, in my mind, about where to find the best chowder in the world: Nova Scotia. Who makes the best, well, we’ll just have to taste and see…along The Chowder Trail. It’s a grueling trek, scaling mountains of seafood that languish in velvety broths perfumed with notes of sweetness and spice… but we’re willing to try.
My Chowder Trail Passport is both my guide and my badge of honour. Will I collect enough stamps to qualify for the prize? Maybe. But the real reward is in sampling each chef’s interpretations of the bounty of fresh seafood Nova Scotia has to offer. It is a matter of pride, but it is also a passion to feature the local terroir in a way that is accessible, nourishing and warm.
These east coast waters are so rich in nutrients that fresh scallops from Adams & Knickle are the size of hockey pucks; Eel Lake Oyster Farm’s oysters, with their sweet cucumber taste, grow to a three-inch jumbo size; plump mussels fill up their shells; and the lobster, salmon, haddock, cod, snow crab, shrimp and potatoes for which Nova Scotia is renowned are the highest quality in the world.
Nova Scotia wines pair beautifully with seafood and chowder. The appellation is Tidal Bay – inspired by the sea. The Benjamin Bridge Tidal Bay, blending L’Acadie Blanc, Ortega, and New York Muscat grapes, shows the fresh minerality of the ocean breeze, while Gaspereau Vineyards’ is a bright, off-dry blend of Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Muscat. These crisp cool-climate wines have the right balance and acid structure to cut the creaminess of chowder – it’s like they were made for each other.
There are 60 restaurants participating in the third year of this initiative, and many others that also make wonderful chowders revealing individual flare. The finnan haddie and chorizo chowder at Tempest Restaurant is a velvety smooth confluence of smoke and spice, with generous pieces of haddock and sausage. At Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound our chowder experience includes picking our own lobster, weighing it and taking it to the cookhouse. Our host shows us the difference between male and female, left- and right-handed and, just in case, how to make a lobster go to sleep (curl it up and stroke its tail). The Swiss-inspired Charlotte Lane in Shelbourne boasts a sea harvest chowder of scallops, shrimp and haddock with a sprig of tarragon. In Lunenburg, at Grand Banker Bar & Grill, we ladle a gumbo-style stew of haddock, scallops, jumbo shrimp and muscles simmered in a rich Cajun broth; and at the renowned Fleur de Sel, a roasted squash and apple soup is lovingly adorned with crisp spaghetti squash and olive oil poached lobster. As Janice Ruddock, executive director of Taste of Nova Scotia says, “Fresh Nova Scotia seafood from our cold, clean waters paired with produce from our lush fertile valleys, all brought together by our passionate chefs…we use what Mother Nature has given us to create an amazing culinary experience from each shore and valley of our beautiful province.” A personal favourite of mine that I need immediately upon arrival in Halifax is the Pappou’s Creamy Fisherman’s chowder at Ela! Greek Taverna. With spoon in hand, I reel in calamari, mussels, halibut, shrimp, scallops, salmon and lobster – all luxuriating in creamy goodness.
Ten Taste of Nova Scotia chefs are confirmed for the three-day Chowder Cook-off competition on the Taste of Nova Scotia culinary stage at Saltscapes this year: Mark Gabrieau (Gabrieau’s Bistro), Craig Flinn (Chives Canadian Bistro), Jason Lynch (Restaurant Le Caveau), Jon Geneau (Rhubarb Restaurant), Thomas Carey (Pictou Lodge Beachfront Resort), Dave Smart (Front & Central), Les Stevens (The Grand Banker), Dale Nichols (Digby Pines), Shelley Steventon (Old Fish Factory) and Kim Stacey (Emma’s Eatery). We can’t wait to taste their creations!
Every bowl tells a different story, and everyone has a favourite. All regions of the province of Nova Scotia are represented, and the range of flavours is a hearty confluence of richness and warmth that reflect the character of the people who live here.