By Sam Laird

A song blasting out of loudspeakers at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk probably said it best: “Chowder! Clam chowder! It’s the soup we love the most!”

An estimated 8,000 chowderphiles, tourists, and curious onlookers packed the boardwalk last Saturday for the 25th annual Santa Cruz Clam Chowder Cook Off and Festival.

However, the event, which attracts contestants from across the state, is more than just a carnival of clamcentric creations. Its primary function is to raise funds for the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department.

“We were really pleased this year to have a record number of cooking teams, because more cooking teams means more chowder, which means more sales to benefit the city’s parks and recreation,” said Lisa McGinnis, Parks and Recreation Department Special Events supervisor. “It was a great year for us. This year’s event raised over $40,000.”

A total of 59 cooking teams stewed their own concoctions in one or both of the creamy Boston or thinner, tomato-flavored Manhattan styles. Winners were named in the Individual, Restaurant, and Corporate/Media divisions, while awards were also handed out for Most Original Team, Most Tasted Chowder, and People’s Choice.

Contestants were not shy about touting their recipes, and tried to impress samplers by dancing, dressing up, or

simply boasting.

“See these clams?” said Salmone Ponce of the Best Individual Boston-winning group Mom’s Clam Diggers. “I dug ’em up myself. This is homemade chowder, and the bread and everything else—it’s all local.”

Severino’s Grill of Aptos, which won Best Restaurant Boston and Best Restaurant Manhattan, operated out of a jungle themed booth advertising “Safari Chowder.” Another stand offered “Hydroponic Chowder,” while the Cabrillo College Culinary Arts Program called their booth “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Clam’s Chest.”

“It’s exciting to get up early, plan a recipe, and get together and make it with friends,” said a piratically dressed Courtney Wayne, who will graduate from Cabrillo’s Culinary Arts Program this spring.

The crowd, which made navigating the crammed boardwalk a challenge, seemed at once pleased by the potages being dished out and stunned at the number of people in attendance.

“The festival was very nice and the chowder itself is really good,” said Anne Hornsby of Martinez, CA., after the event. “I’ve never seen so many people here, but it was very safe.”

Toward the end of the afternoon, as ballots were being counted to name the cook-off winners, contestant Tom Perozzi summed up the mood of the festival.

“It’s about the community getting together,” he said. “The group of people here is really fun. We’re hardcore and want to win, but we also just want to

have fun.”