South Coast Chowder Competition and Craft Bazaar

Meredith Desliu and her daughter, Nora, 2, sample chowder Saturday during the inaugural South Coast Chowder Competition and Craft Bazaar at the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute at Southwestern Oregon Community College.

COOS BAY — The Oregon Coast Culinary Institute at Southwestern Oregon Community College hosted its first-ever South Coast Chowder Competition and Craft Bazaar Saturday to help raise funds for its student competition club.

The cook-off, which showcased nine local restaurants and businesses, featured a panel of judges from around Coos County, who in a blind taste test judged and scored the chowders based on texture, taste, appearance and aroma.

The proceeds collected from ticket sales Saturday went toward OCCI’s Student Competition Club, which gives students the opportunity to participate in competitions around the country as well as equips them with additional training and skill building.

OCCI Executive Director Randy Torres said the chowder competition was a great way for community members, local restaurants and the culinary school to all come together to share in good food and showcase their talents.

“I think as a community college we should be a hub for people,” said Torres. “We should let them know we’re here to serve them and with each other we can be stronger.”

According to Torres, the event Saturday not only kicked up some friendly, fun competition, but it also provided an opportunity for students to interact and network with potential employers from around the South Coast.

Samantha Yliz, of Veneta, traveled over the weekend to visit her son, Brandon, a culinary student at OCCI and to attend the event.

“I’ve been eating chowder all my life,” said Yliz. “A good chowder is not too thin, but also not too thick, has just the right balance of seasonings and the clams aren’t squishy. So, far these are some amazing chowders.”

The first place winner was Mean Street Sandwich Shop & Bakery in Coos Bay, second place was Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon and third place was The Crazy Norwegian's in Port Orford. A people’s choice award was also handed out to the Blue Heron Bistro in Coos Bay.

Patrick Spence Jr., owner of Mean Street Sandwich Shop & Bakery, said the chowder recipe he competed with is one that has been passed down in his family for years. As a new business owner, Spence Jr. said his father, Pat, recently passed down the recipe to him so he could feature it at his restaurant.

“It’s a family secret so I can’t tell you much, but it’s a recipe full of love and flavor,” he said. “I make it every single morning and people say that it's great and that they love its consistency.”

Inspired by the competition and its fundraising efforts, Spence Jr. said he’s now looking into possibly starting his own fundraiser for OCCI’s student competition club so he could provide them a donation.

“I was on a logging sports team when I was in college and I understand how hard it can be sometimes to fundraise money to help your team,” said Spence Jr. “I’m now in a position where I can give back and so that’s what I’d like to do … participating in competitions can be very beneficial to students and for me I got to travel and learn a lot of new things.”

The event Saturday also featured a craft sale with homemade, unique items from a range of local businesses from around the South Coast.

“The goal for me was to get the community together,” said Torres. “I feel like we’ve accomplished that and it was nice to see the excitement on everyone’s face as they came in.”

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Reporter Amanda Linares can be reached at 541-266-2039 or by email at amanda.linares@theworldlink.com.