Chowderheads have ‘very creamy time’ at cookoff

Jan 30, 2023

James Powell was a man on a mission. That mission? Finding “another way to make chowder.”

Powell, head chef of Vel’s Restaurant, has been cooking chowder since he was 15. He tinkered with his recipe countless times to uncover the perfect texture; nice and creamy, not too thick or too watery. 

Eventually, his trial and error paid off.

“One day it came out right,” he said, “and I stuck to the right recipe.”

Powell was one of over a dozen local chefs and businesses who competed in the first-ever Redmen Chowder Festival on Saturday, Jan. 28. Local chowderheads packed Redmen Hall, sampling the clammy delights and voting on who would take home the trophy and the $100 grand prize. 

“Any time of year it’s good,” Powell said about chowder. “It’s comfort food.”

Powell’s daughter Destinee, who helped him serve his chowder, wants to be a chef someday.

“He hasn’t given me his secrets yet,” she said. 

Wayne Eldridge won’t reveal his secrets either. He cooked a recipe that has been in his family for 100 years.

“I love to cook it and I love to eat it,” he said. “It’s a family tradition.”

“It tastes like gifts from the sea,” his friend John Riley said. 

Tony Gromelski, former national president of the Improved Order of Redmen, came to the festival to support his “brothers” in the Order. He also loves all things chowder. He had 10 empty cups of chowder stacked on his table — and he still hadn’t tried all of the entries. 

“There’s spicy [chowders], there’s Italian ones, there’s Irish ones,” he said. “And they all taste very, very good.” 

Gromelski said that the perfect chowder should contain lots of butter. His favorite chowder at the festival was Charlie Chaples’s Redmen Chowder, which has graced the tables of Redmen Hall for 10 years.

“It wasn’t too spicy,” Gromelski said, “it wasn’t too creamy, it was just the way I like it.”

Chaples is responsible for all of the cooking at Redmen Hall. His recipe, passed down from his mother, is unorthodox. The broth is thin and watery, with no flour added. 

“Seafood chowder goes back to my great ancestors,” he said. 

Chaples said that Massachusetts has the best chowder because its waters contain three different kinds of clams — hard shell, soft shell and razor. The cold water makes the seafood taste sweet.

Nancy Valentino, holding a cup of chowder in each hand, agreed. 

Sola Lee doesn’t cook chowder. Her specialty is dumplings, which she sells out of her Sola’s Disco Dumplings food truck. Nevertheless, she had “a very creamy time.” 

“They’re really delicious,” she said. “It’s perfect for today’s weather.”

Chaples’s chowder was also her favorite. Ever since the native New Yorker moved to Wareham, Lee has enjoyed the fresh seafood at Redmen Hall’s annual clambakes.

“That’s kind of like nostalgia for me,” she said. 

Randy St. Germaine’s chowder came in first place, earning him the $100 prize.

Glenn and Jenn Reagan came in second place, winning $75.

In third place was the Cafe on 10 at the Bay Pointe Club, winning $50.