BREWER, Maine — Austin Hughes, 3, of Eddington walked up to the two flying dragon ice sculptures that stood near the edge of the Penobscot River glistening in the sunshine Saturday, and asked his parents one simple question.
“How do they do it?”
His parents, Erica and Danny Hughes, tried to explain, but instead decided to take the boy, along with his 5-year-old sister, Makayla, down to where four “amateur” ice sculptors worked on huge blocks of ice in a competition to create their own fantasy creatures.
The ice carving was just one part of the 2009 Penobscot River Winterfest, designed to bring together folks young and old from all over the region for wintertime fellowship.
The two-day community celebration started Friday with fireworks, professional ice carving, skating, sledding and live music. Saturday’s festivities began with a French toast breakfast, then children’s events, a chili and chowder cook-off, the amateur ice carving competition, more sledding and skating, and ended with a Snowball dance.
“It’s something to do and get out of the house,” Erica Hughes said.
The young family’s first stop was the Brewer Auditorium, which was filled with children’s games hosted by Penquis, with sledding and ice skating out back on Doyle Field.
Makayla Hughes, with a brightly colored rainbow on one cheek, said her favorite parts were “painting my face” and the bounce house.
After leaving the games, the Eddington family headed to the Muddy Rudder restaurant to see the ice sculptures and hit the “people’s choice” chili and chowder cook-off.
Nine area restaurants — Bear Brew Pub, Brookside Bar and Grill, Godfrey’s Grille, the Ground Round, Harvest Moon, Husson University, Muddy Rudder, Tim Hortons, Weathervane and Woodman’s — presented their versions of chili, chowder or both for folks to taste-test.
For the first time ever, the Muddy Rudder took first place in both categories for its chicken barbecue chili, and its lobster, clam and corn chowder.
“Fresh lobster meat, fresh clams and roasted corn” go into the chowder, sous-chef Scott McKenzie said while dishing out the creamy creation. “It’s my three favorite chowders married together.
“It’s a specialty soup,” he added. “It’s not on the menu, but it’s a special soup quite frequently.”
The upstairs at the Muddy Rudder was filled with people taste-testing soups and chilis. Gail LeClair of Bangor was at the event with Tom Pratt of Greenville.
“I’m doing the chili and he’s doing the chowder,” she said. “I loooove chili. This is fantastic.”
Mayor Arthur “Archie” Verow said he’s a “chili guy,” but couldn’t help but sample the chowder.
“This is a great event,” he said between bites. “It’s fun. It’s fun for the whole neighborhood and all ages.”
City Manager Steve Bost described the Winterfest turnout as “absolutely terrific,” adding, “I had to park two streets down.” He said he didn’t mind because he knew a hot bowl of chili awaited him. City Councilor Gail Kelly described the crowds, fireworks and children’s events as “phenomenal” and that the two-day event “has been fantastic.”
“[Friday] night, you couldn’t even move inside the Rudder,” she said.
As the Hugheses walked away from the ice dragons down toward where the amateurs were working on their icy creations, Danny carried Austin, and Erica held Makayla’s hand. The young girl looked up at her parents and echoed her brother’s earlier question when she said, “How did they do that?”
Her dad simply answered, “Let’s go see.”
An S-shaped sea dragon, created by Murry Long, New Hampshire Culinary Institute culinary director, won the amateur ice-sculpting contest.