– There’s a new celebrity in town.
Gilroy resident Rick Santos and his team of six took home top
honors Saturday for their
Stinkin’ Clams of Gilroy
clam chowder at the 23rd annual Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Clam
Gilroy – There’s a new celebrity in town.
Gilroy resident Rick Santos and his team of six took home top honors Saturday for their “Stinkin’ Clams of Gilroy” clam chowder at the 23rd annual Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Clam Chowder Cookoff.
The team won first place in the individual Boston category.
After winning awards in 2002 and 2003 for the most-tasted chowder in the individual category, as well as most-tasted overall in 2002, Santos said Saturday’s award is a new and much-anticipated honor.
“That was the one prize that I really wanted,” he said. “The recognition is judged by chefs, local dignitaries and celebrities,” he said. “To be judged the best, as opposed to giving away the most volume, is really an honor. Even restaurants and chefs want to win that one, because then they can say they truly have an award-winning chowder.”
Santos and his nephew, Ralph Santos, cooked the chowder, while Rick Santos’ wife Debbie and a family friend, Vicky Moody, ladled up samples for two hours straight. Vicky’s husband, Kevin, and another Santos family friend, Ernie Marques, served as frontmen, drawing attention to their booth and ringing a cow bell every time a visitor nominated their chowder for the People’s Choice Award.
The crew also had a tropical theme this year, donning Hawaiian-print shirts, shell necklaces and straw hats.
Despite a less-than-desirable location on the boardwalk – booth No. 49 out of 50 – Santos said he and his crew enjoyed Saturday’s competition, especially the visits they received from several fellow Gilroyans.
“We were very far from the center of all the hubbub, but a number of people came up and said, ‘We’re from Gilroy, and we wanted to come root you on and see how much garlic you got in it,’ ” Santos said. “Over the past years we’ve always had a few people come up, but this year we had several.”
The team first entered the cookoff in 2001 and spent the last few years tweaking the recipe, via the critique of family and friends.
Santos still is unwilling to part with his recipe, but he might consider it if he doesn’t enter the cookoff next year.
“There’s a good chance I’ll enter again. We’ll see,” he said. “I probably won’t adjust (the recipe) now that I’ve gotten to this point. I’m sure someone will come up with something different or better for next year, and that’s the point. But it’s taken me more than four years to get to this point, and I’m just extremely happy.”
No major mishaps struck the Gilroy team this year, Santos said, mainly because he’s learned from past years what to do and what not to do on the day of competition.
“I have a written schedule that I follow that I’ve made adjustments to from year to year, so I don’t forget something,” he said.
The cookoff, though fun, is still a competition, Santos said, and time is of the essence. Teams are given about an hour to prepare their ingredients and about two hours to cook their chowder before public tasting begins.
Only three gallons of chowder are required to enter the contest, but the Gilroy team went all out again this year with 20 gallons – which takes a while to boil, especially on the required gas burners.
“You think you have enough time, but you have to allow yourself more than you think,” Santos said.
The Gilroy team received a plaque of honor as well as eligibility for the grand prize drawing for two round-trip tickets to New York City.
Other winners included the Chowder Slugs of Santa Cruz, which took home the People’s Choice Award, and Dave’s New England Chowder Patriots of San Jose, which was named most-tasted chowder in the individual category. Chowders were judged by a 20-member panel based on flavor, color and consistency.