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Chowder Fest brings community together

Volunteers Barbara Zegarek and Sarah Goldman serve up

Volunteers Barbara Zegarek and Sarah Goldman serve up chowder for a long line of attendees at a fundraiser for the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund. (May 28, 2011) Credit: Lisa Finn

There’s nothing like a steaming cup of home-cooked chowder to bring a community together for a good cause.

That was the sentiment on Saturday as residents turned out for the Third Annual New Suffolk Chowder Fest, held at the waterfront under sunny skies.

Organized by the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund, the event kicks off the summer season and raises funds to help defray the cost of purchasing and preserving the waterfront parcel for community use.

“We all really believe in saving this property,” said Shannon Simon, a member of the group.

The land is used for local events and also hosts a community garden, where local students learn organic gardening.

According to Simon, the 3.4-acre parcel was originally purchased by the Peconic Land Trust; in December, the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund bought the property and currently has a $1 million mortgage to pay off.

To that end, the community came out in full force, with more than 500 donating services and talents. Highlights included music by New Suffolk local Tom Gleason’s band, the Edge, and face-painting.

But front and center was the chowder. According to Barbara Schnitzler, another member of the fund, more than 40 volunteers worked for three days making the homemade chowder, which was all donated.

Choices included New England, Manhattan, or corn chowder. Chowder is a celebration of New Suffolk’s rich history and past oyster and clam harvests, Schnitzler said.

Nancy Gleason, the “Chowder Lady,” orchestrated the chefs, who chopped 50 pounds of onions, 75 pounds of potatoes, 40 pounds of bacon -- and shucked five bushels of clams. While Gleason refused to name her secret “seasoning,” she said the chowder was cooked with love of the waterfront land residents cherish.

“We’re trying to keep it,” she said.

Event coordinator Gary Osborne said the goal of the fund is “to preserve the community, as a community, so it doesn’t get fragmented. Homemade chowder makes this a hometown event.” Saving the waterfront, said Simon, is all about savoring life’s pleasures, such as “sitting by the water and eating a hot dog. We want to keep it really simple.”

And for scores of chowder hounds who came from as far away as Boston to sample the savory fare, the event was a win-win.

“I came from Manhattan for a cup of the world’s best Manhattan clam chowder,” said Cliff Hoppus.

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