While some diehard football fans will spend Sunday trying to beat the freezing temperatures at this year's Super Bowl in the tundra-like Meadowlands of New Jersey, the more rationally minded will be warming up at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport for the 6th annual Chowdafest competition.
For those unfamiliar with Chowdafest, the event started as a humble fundraiser in Westport that attracted several hundred people over two days to a giant happening that draws thousands of people over the course of a few hours.
"This is Chowdafest on steroids," said Jim Keenan, creator of the event said of this year's installment.
Here's how it works: Visitors are given a scorecard and a pencil, and they are asked to rate the soups in different categories. This year, there are four: Classic New England, Traditional (Manhattan or Rhode Island), Creative Chowder and Soup/Bisque.
"This is the first year that Manhattan and Rhode Island have been separated from New England," said Keenan. "New England is always going to be more popular, and there was a small but vocal minority of Chowdaheads who wanted separate categories."
Among the restaurants competing in the Classic category are Fairfield's Old Post Tavern and Super Duper Weenie, and Westport's Mansion Clam House.
"Creative is my personal favorite category," said Keenan. "Parallel Post will be making an oyster chowder with a fried oyster on top, and Indigo by the Water will be making a Cajun Shrimp and Chorizo chowder that is mind-boggling."
Recipes are just as unusual in the Soup/Bisque category. Fairfield's Mecca Noodle Bar will be offering up a Tonkatsu soup, while Westport's Post 154 will be sampling their Golden Corn Bisque. Fairfield's newest restaurant, Local, will be ladling out "Afterschool Soup," which is a fire-roasted tomato bisque with little grilled cheese croutons.
A new addition this year will help alleviate some of the traffic. Visitors will be given trays, so they can get a bunch of samples all at once. "They can sit and slurp," said Keenan. "This way they can take their time and enjoy."
A big change this year will be the Beverage Center, where visitors can sample craft beer and wine. "We've always been guarded about drinks," said Keenan. "We don't want this to turn into a beer or wine fest. We want the focus to be on the chefs."
And speaking of chefs, there will be a cooking stage with demonstrations by Hunter Zampa (the teen chef who recently won the Food Network's Chopped: Teen Talent Show), Pietro Scotti of Westport's DaPietro and Forrest Pasternack, the executive chef of Bailey's Backyard in Ridgefield.
Just in case you need a break from all the soup, there will also be a cheese and cracker corner and samples of The Farmer's Cow ice cream and coffee.
The money raised at the Chowdafest goes to the Connecticut Foodbank. "This is the lowest time of the year for donations to the Food Bank," said Keenan. "It's also the coldest time and supplies are running low." Visitors are encouraged to bring non-perishable food donations, and those bringing items will be entered into a raffle for a $200 Stop and Shop gift certificate.
As for the chefs who participate in the event, they're looking to be named the "Chowda Champions."
"This is not about culinary experts," said Keenan. "This is the People's Choice awards."
Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard
600 Main St., Bridgeport
Cost: Adults, $12; children 6-12 years old, $5; 5 years old and younger, free
Tickets available at the box office. Advance tickets can be purchased at Stop & Shop supermarkets for $10 (adult)
For more information, visit www.chowdafest.org