The Chow­der Trail

DINE and Destinations - - EDITORS LETTER - By Adam Wax­man

“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.

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