In what organizers are calling an effort to better reflect Greenport’s legacy as an oystering community, this year’s Maritime Festival will no longer feature the popular chowder contest.
Instead, local oyster farmers will shuck hundreds of oysters for the two-day festival, which people can pair with local wines or beers, according to East End Seaport Museum chairman Ron Breuer.
“At this point the change would be in the best interest of the festival,” he said. “We want to reflect the maritime history of Greenport.”
Mr. Breuer said the museum also wanted to recognize the hardworking oyster farmers who help preserve Greenport’s working waterfront today.
Along with the shucking there will be an exhibit detailing the village’s days as an oystering hub at the turn of the century. At one time, as many as 14 oyster-processing companies operated in the village.
Organizers said the move is not just about historical relevance but also involves the logistics of conducting the long-running chowder contest. Participating restaurants were responsible for preparing up to 25 gallons of chowder each, not to mention delivering and properly heating it during the contest.
“[Chowderfest] was a huge success,” said chef John Ross, a longtime contest judge. “It brought in a lot of revenue, but it was a big commitment for restaurants. Maybe it’s not a bad idea to change.”
The news did come as a surprise to some former contestants.
“We’re bummed,” said Keith Bavaro, owner of SALT Waterfront Bar and Grill on Shelter Island. The restaurant took home the top prize at Chowderfest last year. “We had a couple of recipe ideas we wanted to try this year. We were really looking forward to winning it again, but we’ll try to get involved with whatever they decided to do.”
The theme of this year’s Maritime Festival is “Land & Sea,” with local fisherman, farmers restaurants and vineyards displaying their wares. It’s an important tie-in as Greenport celebrates its 175th anniversary as an incorporated village, Mr. Breuer said.
“Our mission is to showcase the East End and Greenport itself as a waterfront community,” he said.
It is in that spirit that the festival will exclude most out-of-area vendors. This year, organizers tried to restrict the market space primarily to local artisans and craftspeople, Mr. Breuer said.
“We are not looking for the vendor who sells T-shirts and sunglasses,” he said. “We are looking for the vendor who is glass blowing, woodcarving, making handmade jewelry, things that accent what Greenport is about.”
The changes will be seen across the board, including at the annual Friday night reception, which has traditionally been the unofficial opening of the popular festival. The reception, now titled “A Taste of Greenport,” will feature signature dishes from various area restaurants, local wines and craft beers.
Also new this year are children’s shows, a pie-baking competition and the “merfolk contest,” a costume competition in which children ages 5-12 will dress up as mermaids or Poseidon for the annual parade. Winners will be chosen, but the contest will also serve as an educational opportunity.
“We’re going to teach the kids the difference between facts and fantasies,” he said. “It’s really a kickoff of the whole idea of mermaids in Greenport. In the future you will see a lot of mermaids and oysters at the festival.”
The 24th annual Maritime Festival is scheduled for Sept. 21 and 22, with the opening reception the evening of Sept. 20.