Feast and Frolic Dinner at PEI’s International Shellfish Festival

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The third weekend in September signals the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival.  Seafood lovers from all over the world converge on Charlottetown for a weekend full of everything related to seafood, lots of great PEI food and entertainment.  Now in its 19th year, this Festival continues to grow in popularity each year.

This Festival was the idea of local restaurateur, Liam Dolan, who saw it as a way to extend the PEI tourism season into the late summer.

Liam Dolan
Liam Dolan

The weekend kicked off on Thursday evening with a grand feast and frolic dinner hosted by celebrity chef, Michael Smith.  This dinner was held in a gigantic tent on the Charlottetown Event Grounds and this annual event always sells out early.  Some 500 people attended this year’s dinner which was beach themed.

Chef Michael Smith, host of the Feast and Frolic Dinner at the PEI International Shellfish Festival, Charlottetown, PEI
Chef Michael Smith, host of the Feast and Frolic Dinner at the PEI International Shellfish Festival, Charlottetown, PEI

The four-hour evening began with a meet and greet with Chef Smith — lots of autographs and photo opps.

Meet and Greet Chef Michael Smith
Meet and Greet Chef Michael Smith

The competition for the best oyster grower on the Island was also underway during the reception hour where there were lots of opportunities to watch oyster shucking and taste all the different PEI oysters.

Oyster Shucking at the PEI International Shellfish Festival
Oyster Shucking at the PEI International Shellfish Festival

These disappeared fast!

Some of the oyster competitors for the Oyster Grower of the Year Award.

Competitors in the Oyster Grower of the Year Competition
Competitors in the Oyster Grower of the Year Competition

The oysters were formally being judged by a panel but guests also had the opportunity to vote for the peoples’ choice.  This year, both honours went to Colville Bay Oysters of Souris, PEI.

Oyster Grower Award & Peoples' Choice Award - Colville Bay Oysters
Oyster Grower Award & Peoples’ Choice Award – Colville Bay Oysters

Lots of hors d’oeuvres were served by waiters who continuously circulated amongst the crowd with trays of tasty appetizers.

These Island Blue Mussel Spring Rolls were divine!

Island Blue Mussel Spring Rolls
Island Blue Mussel Spring Rolls

Now, when you walk into a large tent and see beautifully set tables with a black and white theme, you’d probably think you’re going to a formal sit down dinner with a plated meal.  Well you are, well…sort of…..but you may be doing the plating and serving!  You see, this event is an interactive dinner and every guest participates in some event at some point during the evening.

A Maitre’D was selected from each table and was presented with a package of information, including roles to be assigned to table guests.  Yes, each table had a bartender, a member of the paparazzi, beefiest cook, best cook, fastest cook, a beachcomber, and a rock star.  Guests really embraced the concept and soon every one was fully engaged in the fun.

First, Chef Michael took the bartenders from each table aside to explain how to make Caesars.

Each bartender collected a kit of supplies and returned to their tables to make the Caesars tableside and then serve them to their tablemates.

Our table's bartender mixing some Caesars
Our table’s bartender mixing some Caesars
Serving up the Caesars
Serving up the Caesars

Biscuits were on the table to accompany the chowder course but….no butter!  That’s because, the fastest cook at each table had to actually make the butter.  Lots and lots of shaking of a Mason jar full of milk and, voilà, freshly-made butter for the biscuits!  Yup, you really did need to work for your dinner at this event!

Next came three versions of chowder – one cold and two hot, served in glass jars and presented in these cool wooden trays.

Mussel Chowders
Mussel Chowders

Mussel Chowders

Chef Michael then took all the “beachcombers” off to an onsite man-made beach to go combing for hidden beer caps.  Once they found beer caps, they were each presented with a bucket of beer to bring back to their tables.

Then, we sent our table’s “Beefiest Cook” off with Chef Michael and back our cook came with a tray of slow roast striploin which he carved tableside and served to each guest at the table.

Carving and Serving the Slow Roast Striploin
Carving and Serving the Slow Roast Striploin

Wait staff delivered large bowls of PEI lobster to each table along with bowls of garden-fresh vegetables and brown butter mashed PEI potatoes.

PEI Lobster!
PEI Lobster!

Our “Best Cook” assignee joined Chef Michael at the back of the tent to learn how to plate food.  He returned to the table with the makings for a summer berry shortcake – cowberry ice cream, fruit compotes, and biscuits.

Making Summer Berry Shortcake
Making Summer Berry Shortcake

Then our “Best Cook” wowed us with his plating skills!

Meanwhile, our “Rock Star” assignee was responsible for coaching us on our singing skills so we could sing the theme song, “A Day on a PEI Beach” at the end of the evening.  Yours truly was the “Paparazzi” for our table.

While each table actually provided their own entertainment with all their assigned tasks, lively musical entertainment throughout the evening was provided by Mark Haines and Brad Fremlin.

Brad Fremlin (l) and Mark Haines (r) provided musical entertainment throughout the evening
Brad Fremlin (l) and Mark Haines (r) provided musical entertainment throughout the evening
Chef Michael Smith with musicians Mark Haines and Brad Fremlin
Chef Michael Smith with musicians Mark Haines and Brad Fremlin

This was a very unique way to serve dinner and it sure got people involved and interacting with others at their table.  It kept the evening lively and moving along.  Executing this kind of adventure for some 500 guests at a location where the only kitchen is a mobile one and where literally everything had to be brought in — food, equipment, tables, chairs, linens, dishes, etc. — is no small task.  The sheer planning for this event would have been a monumental undertaking.  Kudos go to Chef Michael Smith and the large team of chefs, waiters, hospitality and support staff from the Culinary Institute of Canada, and others for a phenomenal event.

Parade of large cuinary team from the Culinary Institute of Canada who prepared the meal
Parade of large culinary team from the Culinary Institute of Canada who prepared the meal

If you ever have the opportunity to go to this annual dinner, I highly recommend it — but, fair warning, it will be full of hijinks and hilarity and come prepared to be an active participant, not just a spectator!

Related Stories:

Story on PEI International Shellfish Festival

Story on PEI Fall Flavours Festival

Review of Chef Michael Smith’s 7th Cookbook, “Family Meals”

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Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today. There are lots of ways to connect with “the Bistro” through social media:

Join My Island Bistro Kitchen on Facebook
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Click on the links below to read stories I have written in the past about individual Fall Flavours events:

PEI Shellfish Festival (2012):
Farm Day in the City (2012):
Savour Victoria (2012):
Toes, Taps, and Taters (2013)
Lobster Party on the Beach (2013)
Applelicious (2013)

The Great Island Grilled Cheese Challenge (2013)
Feast of the Fathers (2014)
Lamb Luau at Crowbush Cove (2014)

 

 

 

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