By Chris S. – Executive Chef, Stamford Marriott

Every October for the last two years my sous chefs and I have been participating in the annual New England ChowdaFest. When the economy tanked in 2008, Jim Keenan a Maine native, created the ChowdaFest competition along a few of his chef friends as a cheap way to help promote their struggling restaurants and help raise money for Charities. Years later, with the support of close to 40 sponsors including Stop and Shop, Farmers Cow, AAA, and Lowes. With every year bigger than the last, this  year had close to 10,000 attendees and in 2015 raised enough money to fund over 400,000 meals.

There are three categories to compete in New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder and Soup/Bisque. There is a cap for participants to enter into the category of your choice so first come, first serve. The Stamford Marriott has competed for the last two years in the soup/bisque category.
Last year, our soup was a White Bean-Banana Pepper Bisque with a cilantro-avocado crema. We got mentioned and the recipe seemed to go over well but no medal was taken home. This past October, we took home the Bronze Medal with our Spiced Chocolate Bisque. The idea of chocolate was a home run by itself as nobody was expecting chocolate in a chowder competition. The spice of fresh ginger, star anise, cinnamon, orange peel and a touch of coffee brings it to a whole new level. People were coming up and purchasing quarts to take home.

The recipe is attached and is very delicate given the fresh eggs that need to be tempered and the chocolate of course. Attached is the picture of the trophy that gets presented to the winners and is created using only items found on the beach utilizing sea shells and drift wood.

This is a really cool event, it’s outside, there’s thousands of people, great way to get your name out there and meet people in the business. It’s open to anyone and everyone, the reigning champion for the New England Clam Chowder is Pike Place Chowder out of Seattle Washington. I would recommend getting involved. We always fun and we always meet new people. And we get to stuff ourselves with Chowda!!

Spiced Chocolate Bisque…..

  • 125 ml water
  • 125 ml whole milk
  • 110 g butter
  • pinch salt
  • large pinch sugar
  • 150 g flour
  • 3 x eggs
  • Canola oil for frying
  • Cinnamon sugar for coating
  • 500 ml heavy cream
  • 200 ml whole milk
  • 100 g sugar
  • 1 x vanilla bean, split
  • 1 x star anise
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 3 slices fresh ginger
  • 5 g cocoa powder
  • 3 g instant coffee powder
  • 6 x egg yolks
  • 135 g dark chocolate, chopped

In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, milk, sugar, vanilla bean, star anise, cinnamon, orange zest and fresh ginger. Bring it to a boil. Turn the heat off and let it steep for about 10 minutes. Return the mixture to a boil and add the cocoa powder and instant coffee powder. Whisk well.

Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and temper the milk mixture into them while whisking. Return this mixture to the sauce pan and cook for a couple of minutes while constantly stirring until lightly thickens.

Place the finely chopped chocolate in a large bowl. Place a fine sieve over the bowl and pour the custard over the chocolate. Mix until all the chocolate is melted and you have a smooth cream.

Can be served warm, room temperature or cold. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. It will thicken when it cools.

ChowdaFest 2016
Sherwood State Park
Westport, CT




By Sheila C., Director of Sales – Crowne Plaza Reading

In a month when there is pretty much pumpkin “everything”, let us not forget the silent superstar of the fall – the Apple!  Whether picking at an orchard, taste testing at a farmer stand, or baking your favorite treat – there is something wonderfully sweet about a fall day spent with this tree fruit.

One of our favorite festivals of the year here in Reading happens one October weekend at Historic Joanna Furnace, the Hay Creek Apple Festival.  In addition to being held at a one of a kind location, you can sample some of the most delicious apple treats available including: apple dumplings, apple fritters, apple cider, apple cobbler, apple pie and apple butter.  Mouth watering yet?

Though the Hay Creek Apple Festival has already ended in Reading this year, be sure to mark your calendars for Fall 2017 where you can come see, experience and most importantly TASTE all the great things fall, the Apple and Reading has to offer!

Move over pumpkin, the apple is taking over…


By Dana C, Regional Director of Corporate Sales – Harbor Magic Hotels

A warm bowl of chili on a cold day, is one of my favorite comfort foods.  The United States has certainly taken ownership of this delicious dish.  You can usually find a chili cook-off on any given fall or winter weekend.

Chili or Chili con Carne can spark a debate as passionate as ….. well, one might say a political debate.  You see, I grew up in Baltimore.  We called it chili, and it contained the usual meat, beans, onions, garlic, cumin, tomatoes, and peppers.  My dad would eat his chili served over white rice.  As my tasted matured and I started to travel, I noticed not all things (food especially) did not mean the same geographically.

Some say chili is the basic dish served without beans or tomatoes.   Chili cooks have raised passionate discussions of whether beans belong in chili or not.  Purists would argue that the hearty dish would never include beans.

Chili parlors, often family run, could be found in Texas before World War II.  During the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, chili parlor chains could be found throughout the Midwest.

Cincinnati chili can be traced back to 1922, when a chili parlor called Empress Chili opened.  This bowl of chili has also evolved, but will always be served over spaghetti with oyster crackers.

Today there are so many chili recipes, and the ingredients are definitely different depending in what part of the United States of America you live.

I think this one though, is pretty universal, Frito Pie.  This I would say… could not cause a political debate…

Here is how it’s done:

  1. Start with a 2 ounce bag of Fritos corn chips. Carefully cut the side of the bag from top to bottom
  2. Top the Fritos corn chips with your favorite chili or chili con carne.
  3. Top with chopped raw onions, freshly grated cheddar cheese (or your favorite cheese), jalapeno, salsa (optional), and sour cream
  4. Dig In!


By Keith D – Director of F&B Hilton Christiana, aka Forager Extraordinaire

As I begin to write this, I unfortunately realize that this is one of the last mushrooms of the year that I will forage for in 2016.  The weather is turning, temperature are dropping, which means the mushrooms will just about all be gone for this year.  Only a few poly pores will fruit in the cold, like oyster mushrooms.  It also makes me think back to the 2016 mushroom foraging season.  It started off fairly well with a wet spring, but quickly dried out in summer under extreme high temperatures and turned into the worst season I have ever had.  But as a forager, you have to be optimistic; have to think that in the next hollow you will find the mother lode, or that next week will bring perfect conditions.  So I begin the thoughts of what 2017 will bring….

Hen-of-the-woods, Grifola frondosa, or Maitake in Japanese,  is a late fall mushroom, usually September and October in my area, and fruit around the base of old oak trees, sometimes in clusters that can grow 20 pounds or more.  In fact, the mushroom will bring a slow death to the tree and eventually kill it.  They are a Polypore, which are a group of fungi that form fruiting bodies with pores or tubes on the underside, unlike a gilled mushroom, and usually grow on some kind of wood/tree. They are fairly easy it identify, making it a good mushroom to start out with. The Hen-of-the-woods is native of the Eastern United States, as well as Japan, where it is a highly prized mushroom.  If you have ever watched the Food Networks Iron Chef, this was one of the special ingredients used is several battles.

Hen-of-the-woods are considered a choice mushroom by foragers, and therefore usually are a closely guarded secret as to where they picked them. The mushroom is known for coming up in the same location at a base of the same tree year after year.  I keep a log of dozens of trees to check as the season nears.  Never done it before, so no log book?   Start by walking in the woods early October that has a good amount of big Oak trees.  You actually walk around just about every tree, and especially look for trees that have big dead branches and are starting to die. If on a hill, they usually grow on the downside of the tree since three is more moisture there.  You may have to walk 5 miles or more, but eventually should find one.  Every year, in late October, I try to find new trees. It is easier later in the season since the mushrooms can get very large and are easy to spot from a distance.  Unfortunately, they are usually past prime, where they become tough and woody, so they are not good to eat, this year.  But, I will then log it for next year to check earlier in the season.

You can buy Hen-of-the-woods in some specialty stores, but they are almost always not wild but grown with spore plugs inserted into wood.  They taste good, but the wild ones just have better and more robust flavor and qualities.  They taste delicious, and are wonderful just sautéed in butter or can be used in any recipe that calls for the common button mushroom.  They are more flavorful and are hearty, and will keep their shape and not breakdown when cooked for a long period of time.

To see a video on foraging for Hen-of-the-woods

For more pictures of wild and grown Hen-of-the-woods:


By Sheila C – Director of Sales aka True Superhero

Weekends are made for a lot of things when you’re a kid… sleeping in, playing with friends, staying up past bedtime, and watching your favorite morning cartoons.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday or Sunday by any means.  But want to know an even better way to spend your weekend as a kid?  Attending the Superhero Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Reading!

Recently the Crowne Plaza Reading opened its doors one weekend to moms, dads, kids and Berks County superheroes alike!  With Spider-Man, Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Batman and Cat Woman greeting the crowd – families had the opportunity to bring their weekend cartoon rituals to life!  Plates full of eggs, bacon and of course a hearty side of pancakes with ALL the fixings filled the ballroom as kids enjoyed a Superhero coloring station, make your own mask station, photo ops with some of the coolest superheroes around and a delicious buffet breakfast to boot!


The breakfast benefited a local non-profit partner of the hotel, and created a truly memorable morning for the families of Reading, all the while raising money for a great cause!  This is the second edition of a themed breakfast hosted by the Crowne Plaza this year as this summer a Princess Pancake Breakfast brought hundreds (yes, hundreds) of families out raising over $10,000.00 in a matter of 5 hours.  A truly “super” showing by the Berks County Community!