SAINT JOHN – Gregory Spidle’s chowder is chock full of fresh seafood – seared scallops, halibut, salmon, clams and shrimp. But it also has a special ingredient that’s native to a lot of cooking in his hometown of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia: salt pork. Yes, salt pork.
“It’s a hometown [style chowder],” said Spidle. “I was born and raised in Lunenburg and we use salt pork for everything there…I sear some salt pork and put it in the with some corn, and basically the stuff you get off the boat. The salt pork gives it a distinctive taste.”
Spidle won the seafood chowder competition that was part of this past weekend’s second annual Port City Oyster Fest, organized by Gahan House on Prince William Street.
The Gahan House chef won the $750 first prize. Robert Collins from Cask & Kettle won the $250 second prize in a “blind taste test” competition judged by Kirk MacDonald from A Day in Life Food Service Development, Isaac Murphy, operations manager for the Maritime Gahan restaurants and Scott Reid, executive chef at the Lily Lake Pavilion.
Spidle’s mother and father were both early influences in his culinary development.
“Some of my earlier memories are with my mother in the kitchen. She used to love to bake and that’s when I got into [cooking]…I was probably six or seven when I started helping her out in the kitchen when she needed it. It inspired me to cook.”
It was his father who helped him develop his taste for chowders, though.
“My father was a fisherman so he brought pretty much all of the fish home for free,” said Spidle. “He loves his chowder and was usually the one who made it. Every Friday night we’d sit down and have seafood chowder.”
Spidle enrolled in a culinary arts program at the community college in Bridgewater after high school and moved west after he graduated with his girlfriend and worked in restaurants in Alberta and Manitoba.
He then moved back east and got a job at Gahan when it opened in Saint John two years ago. He’s now married to the woman he travelled west with, but she’s a Newfoundlander who doesn’t care for seafood.
But he’s pretty sure she’ll eat his chowder now that it’s a certified award-winner.
Collins, the second-place finisher, is a Newfoundlander who loves seafood chowder and has had a hand in making them since he was a boy.
The head chef and kitchen manager at Cask and Kettle Irish Gastropub, also on Prince William Street, was hanging out in the kitchen when he was as young as five years old.
“I always helped out with nan in the kitchen, she’d make good chowder once in a while,” said Collins. “I got a few tips from her, and my mom always cooked too.”
Collins made a thick, creamy “Newfoundland-style” chowder for the competition, with salmon, cod, muscles and scallops.
Cod is characteristic of Irish and Newfoundland seafood chowders, and a fish that Collins has been eating since he was a baby.
“I remember eating salt cod when I was two years old,” he said. “Actually, my first solid meal was cod from my grandfather hand-feeding it into my mouth…I didn’t even have teeth or anything. I was just gumming it.”
This story was sponsored by Gahan House Port City.