Chowder cook-off auction raises funds, lifts spirits despite drizzling rain

SEBASTIAN — Mere minutes before the auction of the clam chowder cook-off entries, the skies opened up, sending Sebastian Clambake Festival goers scrambling for shelter.

Despite the rain, though, they toughed it out and gathered around the stage to bid on the best of the best clam chowder. For the fourth year in a row, Robyn Pauley took home the top prize – Best Overall – for her Creamy Seafood Chowder, a non-traditional chowder.

“I don’t eat it,” she said. “I just make it.”

She explained that by the time she’s done taste-testing throughout the cooking process, she’s not hungry for a bowl – so she serves it up to her friends.

What sets her chowders apart from the rest? “Totally fresh ingredients,” Pauley said, adding that she shops the local seafood markets for the freshest and best quality ingredients.

Along with winning Best Overall for her non-traditional chowder, Pauley took second in the Non-Traditional Chowder category with her Spicy Seafood Chowder, which came as a shock for the veteran cook-off competitor.

“I don’t do spicy,” she said, crediting her friends’ taste buds for helping to get the flavors right.

Pauley also took third in the Traditional Clam Chowder category.

The auction of the chowder entries got to a slow start but quickly picked up as the rain let up.

Auctioneer and County Commissioner Wesley Davis took to the stage, microphone in hand and got the bidding on Pauley’s Creamy Seafood Chowder underway, asking for a $40-start.

“It probably has gold flakes in it,” Davis told the crowd. “It tastes just that good.”

Bidders didn’t bite on the $40 request and instead got going with $5. The bids quickly went up to $40, however.

“That’s where I wanted to start, you know,” Davis said to the bidder who raised his hand at $40.

Davis told the crowd that the best way to beat to the Grand Champion would be to buy her winning chowder, take it home and dissect it. Of course, he added, the best way for the Grand Champion to defend her title would be to bid even higher.

The Creamy Seafood Chowder went for $45 for each of two quarts of chowder. Two bidders took the chowder home.

Other chowders went for $40, $25 and $20 and the remainder not auctioned off were sold on a first-come-first-served basis for $10 a quart.

This year’s judges were Sebastian City Manager Al Minner, Sheriff Deryl Loar and a representative from Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers.

“The Sheriff’s gone, right?” Davis asked while auctioning off Pauley’s third place Traditional Clam Chowder entry. Davis told the audience that he questioned the judge’s intent when naming Pauley third.

To get the bidding started, the auctioneer put up $10 of his own cash, telling the crowd that he’d give them plenty of time to outbid him.

They didn’t.

“I promise I’ll pay as soon as we’re done,” Davis said.

Finishers in the Clam Chowder Cook-Off were:

Traditional Clam Chowder

First: Cheryl DeLetto

Second: Michael Mullins

Third: Robyn Pauley

Manhattan Clam Chowder

First: Ellen Morris

Non-Traditional Chowder

First: Robin Pauley

Second: Robin Pauley

Third: Betsy Connelly

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