Lobster Chowder | Recipe from Best Cook in Town Dick Bridges
Dick Bridges, who has been pulling lobsters from the waters down around Stonington and Isle au Haut, Maine, since he was 7, loves to cook. He’s a big man, his ruddy face ringed by a white mariner’s beard. He has a voice like a foghorn, and massive hands. Shake his hand and you’ve met hard work.
Dick is in his kitchen, whipping up his famous lobster chowder. He’ll make it for four folks or four thousand. He’s got the onion chopped, and he’s chunking up the lobster meat. A third-generation lobsterman, Dick left the house this morning at 3:30, same as every morning. Now it’s early afternoon. He’s just back with his catch, and he’s hungry. He pops a few shrimp in his mouth. He’s in his bare feet and appears to be in his element. Stories slide out as easily as the shells off the shrimp–many stories of a satisfying life in a house that he and his wife, Carol, built in 1969, looking out over Sylvester Cove, a little piece of heaven up here on the western side of Deer Isle. His lobster chowder is famous, but, as far as Carol is concerned, the rest of his repertoire should be, too. “He’ll bake you a pie quicker than you can believe,” she says.
“My best is chocolate cream,” Dick adds.
“Oh no, Dick, it’s your lemon meringue!” Carol replies. “Oh, wait, what about the custard pie?”
“Yup, yup,” he says, “I think that one’s my best.”
A “mean” pork roast on the grill and an amazing chocolate cake are added to his list of favorites. It seems that for the first 25 years of their nearly 50-year marriage, Carol did the cooking. And then one day Dick said to her, “You know, I love to cook and I never get the chance. I think that you’ve been the cook in this house long enough. I’m going to be the cook for the next 25.” And this is how it’s gone. Dick does all the cooking–all of it. And he loves it. At first he had to get his sea legs under him. “If I had any questions,” he says, “I’d call Mother and she’d straighten me right out. I’m not fancy, you understand.”
The lobster chowder is done in jig time–less than an hour, which includes a few pauses for stories. He ladles the result into bowls and sets them on the pine table. Rosy red, loaded with lobster chunks and potatoes, the chowder steams invitingly. Dick, who’s probably eaten thousands of bowls of this chowder, digs in as if it’s his very first, and then looks up for my approval, easy to give.
While we’ve been talking and eating, a red sky has bloomed over the cove outside–“sailor’s delight.” “Oh yes,” Dick says, “I see the sunset here, and where I keep my boat is where the sun rises. I guess I’m pretty lucky.”
As I’m leaving, we walk out onto the deck, and the last colors of the sunset show, with a bright-silver fingernail moon halfway up the sky. “Look at that!” says Dick Bridges. “Look at that!”