Ithaca's 13th Annual Chowder Cook-Off is part of the Ice and Lights festival, taking place in the Commons for the first week of December.

December 4, 2023

Ithaca Chowder Cook-Off Celebrates its 13th Anniversary

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Despite winter temperatures and rain, the streets of the Ithaca Commons were covered by stalls from local restaurants on Saturday, Dec. 2, who were distributing their chowder to attendees of the Downtown Ithaca 13th Annual Chowder Cook-Off.

This year marked the event’s 13th anniversary. It was initially created following the success of Ithaca’s Chili Cook-Off, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. 

Sponsored by Maguire and Tompkins Community Bank, the Chowder Cook-Off is a part of the larger Ice and Lights Festival — an event taking place in the Ithaca Commons from Dec.1 to Dec. 9, which will also include a silent disco, a visit from Santa and a bar made of ice.

Cook-Off attendees bought tickets from a centralized tent, which they then could exchange for a cup of chowder from the vendor of their choice. Each vendor represented a different restaurant from the Commons, with other participants hailing from Cornell Dining and The Statler Hotel’s restaurant, Taverna Banfi

Despite their proximity on Cornell’s campus, each Cornell booth claimed its chowder’s superiority.

“We’ve had a line the whole time, and Cornell Dining has never had a line,” said Jason Hynes-Klempa, the assistant manager of the events department at The Statler.

Taverna Banfi’s chowder was described as a seafood chowder containing lobster, fish and scallops. They paired the chowder with honeynut squash and topped it with a buttermilk biscuit, according to their ingredient card.

“The Statler Hotel lobster and seafood chowder was very good,” said Monica Wellings, an Ithaca resident. “I’m not sure my five-year-old will love it, but I really like seafood, so I’m biased if you throw a little lobster at me.”

Cornell Dining cooked “a roasted corn and smoked chicken chowder, topped with a cornbread crouton, cotija cheese and wonderful bacon on top,” according to Taylor Griffith, a banquet captain with Cornell Catering

This was the first year The Yellow Deli, a controversial deli chain that opened in Ithaca earlier this year, participated in the Chowder Cook-Off. They offered a vegetarian chowder with potatoes, onions, celery and cheese.

However, other restaurants have been participating in the Chowder Cook-Off for most of its history. 

“We have been doing this for so long, I can’t even remember,” said Seana Wallace from Simeon’s American Bistro.

Simeon’s sold a classic clam chowder, which was a fan favorite among tasters.

“My favorite is Simeon’s,” said Jonathan Segal grad. “It’s good. I don’t eat meat, and it doesn’t have bacon.” 

Ned Asta, from local vegetarian restaurant Moosewood, commented on how this year’s festival felt compared to previous years’.

“In past years, there have been at least 25 vendors. This year, there are a dozen,” Asta said. “I don’t know what happened to the Downtown Ithaca Alliance. They usually come and give us cups and stuff. It seems like it’s more of a lowkey Chowder Cook-Off this year.” 

The Downtown Ithaca Alliance runs various events throughout the year, such as the Chili and Chowder Cook-Offs, the Apple Harvest Festival, Downtown Pride Week and the Summer Concert Series, according to their website.

Moosewood served a southwestern corn and local root vegetable chowder. This year, they added a polenta crumble on top — made from polenta, parmesan, herbs and Morita chiles, according to their ingredient card.

“The Moosewood vegetarian chowder had a nice spice,” said Ithaca resident Rebekah Smith. “It was so different, the Southwestern flavor. It was worth going out of the way for it.”

Other restaurants offering their takes on chowder included Viva Tacqueria, Red’s Place, The Ithaca Ale House and Revelry Yards.

Overall, attendees and restaurant staff alike expressed enjoyment at Saturday’s Cook-Off.

“Everyone gets to enjoy delicious ‘chowdah’; ‘Chowdah,’ not chowder,” said Erick Barnes of Revelry Yards.

Jack Grossman ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected]. Jonathan Brand ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].