Make Way for Musselfest

— Created March 4, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kacie Jo Voeller Whidbey Weekly

Ready the spoons and prepare to taste test across the town of Coupeville this weekend during the annual Musselfest event and chowder competition featuring 16 local restaurants.

Festivities get underway at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, with tastings starting at 11 a.m. For over three decades, the Penn Cove Mussel Festival has been made possible by the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association, Penn Cove Shellfish and local businesses and organizations.

The event celebrates Penn Cove’s famous mussels and highlights include a chowder-tasting competition, a beer garden with music, mussel farm boat tours, chef demonstrations and more. Both days will feature a tasting, with tickets available online for Sunday’s tasting only. Each ticket allows for tasting at four given restaurants and costs $10. Tickets are available at the Coupeville Rec Hall beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Christian Chambers, event planner for Musselfest, said the event will draw participants from both on and off the island. He said he feels the popularity of Musselfest has a lot to do with the small town charm Coupeville has to offer and the involvement of so many local people.

“Our locals are very supportive and we see a lot attend during Musselfest and I know people who are coming from outside like to see that — if the locals are involved, there must be something good going on,” he said.

Chambers, who works with the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association, said one of the lesser known but fascinating aspects of the event is the boat tour of the Penn Cove Shellfish mussel farms, available for $15.

“You get to go out on a tour boat, go out to the mussel rafts, they pull up a line of mussels, you can see how they are grown,” he said. “They have great tour guides who tell you all about mussel history and how they are grown and farmed and it is a really great experience. I feel like it is an underrated aspect of the festival that people are not always aware of. They know about the chowder tasting but the boat tour is always amazing.”

Chambers said the mussel competition will feature restaurants ranging from chowder-making veterans to those who have never competed before.

“We do have a few new restaurants this year and we have our regulars who are the ones who have been doing it for years,” he said.

One of the new restaurants this year will include the Little Red Hen Bakery, which focuses on providing freshly baked bread and goods served with excellent customer service. Latda Khongsavanh, manager of Little Red Hen Bakery, said the bakery’s team expects to see a large crowd over the course of the weekend, and looks forward to seeing locals and tourists alike spending time in the community.

“I think it is where the whole entire city, the whole town gets together and they celebrate the town,” she said. “(That) is what I feel Musselfest is and it also brings in a lot of tourists, but it is a coming-together for the community.”

Khongsavanh said she feels one of the biggest draws of the event is the famed Penn Cove mussels.

“I would say the mussels themselves, they stand out alone, because they are famous and that is what everyone is here for and a good time,” she said.

Khongsavanh said she felt the key to a winning chowder would be something that stands out and employs the best fresh components.

“I guess that is going to be something that is unique and something that someone has not tried before, with lots of fresh ingredients and flavor,” she said.

Amanda Maksinchuk, manager of The Tyee Restaurant, a seasoned Musselfest competitor, said the process to prepare for Musselfest begins with planning long before the event rolls around.

“We will be getting ready for it this whole week, starting with shucking the mussels, getting that ready,” she said. “And you start planning for it months in advance with your staffing and all of that, but all this week will be basically dedicated to making a lot of mussel chowder.”

Maksinchuk, who has worked with the restaurant for nine years, said festival attendees from islanders to tourists enjoy all the event has to offer.

“They have such a good time and they are always in a good mood and dancing and I think it is just so much fun,” she said.

Maksinchuk said the event is all about highlighting what Coupeville and Penn Cove have to offer.

“It is our mussels, they come right from our cove and I think that makes it unique right there,” she said. “It is about our community.”

For more information, visit www.thepenncovemusselfestival.