By Donald Wittkowski
It wasn’t just the salt air that Terri Derozario smelled Sunday while standing on the outdoor balcony of the Music Pier just steps from the ocean.
Derozario smiled as the aroma emanating from pots of clam chowder and chili blended together in one mouthwatering bouquet that tempted her taste buds.
“It makes me hungry,” she exclaimed. “It was a good idea not to eat before I came here. I’m saving myself for all of the chowder.”
Derozario, of Upper Township, was among hundreds of people who brought their appetites with them for the Ocean City Restaurant Association’s second annual Chili Chowder Festival at the Music Pier.
Judging by the enthusiastic nods of approval from the festival-goers as they tasted each sample, Ocean City may be ready to join New England and Manhattan as places that have the words “clam chowder” attached to their names.
“We have some really high-quality products here. We also have a lot of great chefs in the city,” said Bill McGinnity, president of the Ocean City Restaurant Association and owner of Cousin’s Restaurant on Asbury Avenue.
A $15 admission fee for adults and $5 for children allowed festival-goers to sample all of the different chowders and chilis cooked up by a dozen local restaurants as well as members of the Ocean City Fire Department.
While some people may settle for supermarket-bought chowder or chili straight out of a can, Derozario explained that she prefers something much tastier.
Sometimes, she’ll make her own crab chowder, adding artichoke hearts and mushrooms to the crab meat and finishing it with sherry.
“It’s all about the flavor,” she said.
Derozario wandered through the Chili Chowder Festival, not quite sure what she would try first. She settled on a shrimp and corn chowder.
“I love it,” she declared. “It’s nice and creamy. It has a lot of vegetables in it.”
Throughout the afternoon, festival-goers sauntered along the Music Pier’s loggia, savoring the zesty chowders and chilis. With them, they carried their plastic spoons and small cups containing the samples.
Proceeds from the Chili Chowder Festival went to the Ocean City Firefighters Foundation, a group that supports an array of charities, community events and athletic and academic programs at local schools. Last year, the festival benefited the Humane Society of Ocean City, raising about $3,000 for the no-kill animal shelter, McGinnity said.
One of the highlights Sunday featured would-be chefs from Ocean City’s three firehouses creating their best chili concoctions in a head-to-head competition for bragging rights within the fire department.
Fire Capt. Pat Flynn started out making a vegetarian chili, but decided to add some beef to it after someone reminded him that “unless there’s meat in it, it’s just soup,” he said.
So, Flynn ended up with sweet potato and beef chili. He was happy to see that his chili was drawing some votes in the fire department’s contest.
“I’m getting there,” Flynn said while shaking a plastic bucket containing ticket stubs that doubled as votes.
The next table over, firefighter Chris Meyer, with help from his wife, Ruthann, was dishing up a pepper chili that had a secret ingredient.
“I don’t normally reveal my secrets, but caffeine may be involved in the whole process,” Meyer said with a mischievous smile.
When pressed for details, he disclosed that his chili may have been flavored with espresso, hence the caffeine. He also added squash, along with the peppers
“It’s an evolving recipe,” Meyer joked.