By Sarah Welsh
City on a Hill Press Reporter

Dwight Collins, UC Santa Cruz’s executive chef, has been competing in Santa Cruz’s annual clam chowder cook-offs since 1983.

What makes a good clam chowder is pretty simple. “Clams, potatoes, cream, and celery,” he said, “and some secret ingredients.”

The cook-off is held every year at the Boardwalk and is an important fundraiser for the Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department. Last year’s cook-off raised $30,000.

UCSC started competing in the cook-offs five years ago, centered around Collin’s culinary creativity. “The competition recipe was created by Collins, and uses sustainably harvested clams,” said Candy Berlin, the program coordinator for UCSC dining services.

For the cook-off, the campus chefs typically make about 75 gallons of clam chowder — 40 gallons of Boston and 35 gallons of Manhattan — for the three to four thousand guests.

“Boston-style is made from 100 percent organic ingredients, and many ingredients are local, including the clams, potatoes, and cream,” Berlin said.

The Chowder Slugs team makes the creamy Boston clam chowder, and the Redwood Sluggers team makes the tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder. Both teams are composed of chefs working for UCSC Dining Services.

“If we win or place, we take [the chowder] around and do a road show, and serve it in bread bowls in the dining halls in the spring quarter,” Collins said.

The normal dining hall recipe is similar to the competition recipe, but “uses canned clams and a milk base to help contain costs and calories,” Berlin said.

The UCSC teams, led by Collins, have done well in the past, winning coveted awards for their chowder recipes.

The Chowder Slugs won three awards for their New England clam chowder in 2005: first place in the Corporate Division, third place for Overall Most Tasted, and grand prize as the People’s Choice.

The Chowder Slugs won again in the corporate division and the People’s Choice Award the next year, but 2007 was the year for the Redwood Sluggers, who won third place overall for the Manhattan Clam Chowder.

The Slugs couldn’t pull in an award last year, but Berlin said, “We’re hoping to win something this year.”

The 27th annual clam chowder cook-off is Saturday, Feb. 21. UCSC students are encouraged to head down to the Boardwalk and support their teams.

James Perry, fourth-year environmental studies major, attended the cook-off last year.

“The setting, the tastes, and the different spices were all excellent,” he said. “I had a really great time.”

Admission is free, and tasting kits, which cost $8, allow guests five cups to sample chowders and vote for their favorites. The cooking starts at 10 a.m., and the public tasting starts at 1 p.m.

“Sammy the campus mascot will be part of our cheerleading squad, encouraging guests to taste the UCSC dining entry,” Berlin said. “We’re especially proud that no slugs are harmed in the production of our chowder.”

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