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'Ugly' microplastic-themed chowder scores awards for Richmond chef

Twelve Vancouver chefs battled for the title of Chowder Champion.

“It was so ugly that it was the best thing I ever did.” 

Ironically, the ugly thing was a dish created for a competition highlighting sustainable seafood. 

Will Lew, a chef at Richmond’s Versante Hotel, and his team transformed a traditional chowder into the ugliest dish possible to bring attention to microplastic pollution in our oceans for the annual Ocean Wise Chowder Chowder

Lew’s chowder was in the form of a terrine with multiple layers, each representing a different depth in the ocean. 

The density of plastic waste depends on how deep you go in the ocean, Lew explained. 

The dish included edible cellophane kelp, fake styrofoam and anything that “you’d think that looks unnatural” in the ocean. 

To enhance the presentation, the dish was served in the “ugliest container possible” — a plastic one — to emphasize the message even more. 

“While we are trying to be sustainable in our cooking, we aren’t even close to fully achieving it,” Lew said. 

“We’re calling everyone out, including ourselves, like when we use a lot of plastic jugs and all the plastic-derived materials that we have, such as our clothes.” 

The creation nabbed him second place at the Chowder Chowdown, which was held at UBC in mid-October - back after a two-year hiatus. 

Lew also won the chowder and beer pairing award. 

The competition is not only for chefs to battle for the title of Chowder Champion, but to also share the importance of keeping our oceans clean and healthy.

Lew told the Richmond News winning the awards among 11 other Vancouver chefs was unexpected.

“I went in there thinking I wouldn’t get anything because it was going to freak people out, make people feel a bit guilty and bring forth the purpose,” said Lew.

“When we got second place, thinking that this (dish) won’t even be recognized, it was reassuring to know people are listening and maybe more. That was the biggest win.”

Winning was a bonus, but the main goal was to get people to discuss the “obvious ocean plastic problem” and continuously remind himself and others about it, Lew said.

“This event is really about galvanizing the right people for a common cause and everyone brings a different perspective to the table, but also the idea on how to utilize that perspective at the table.”

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