Tag Archives: Chef Irwin MacKinnon

Five PEI Foodies Talk About Their Christmas Food Traditions

Herb-Basted Roast Turkey
Herb-Basted Roast Turkey

Food plays a vital role in Christmas celebrations here in Prince Edward Island. I recently chatted with five Islanders who, in one way or another, have strong food connections. Read on to find out what foods these foodies most associate with Christmas and what foods, if they didn’t have them, it just would not be Christmas for them.

(With the exception of Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Seafood Pie,   all photos in this posting are from the food blogger’s own stock collection and are not of contributors’ specific recipes mentioned in this article.)

Wade MacLauchlan, Premier of Prince Edward Island

Food factors heavily into Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Christmas festivities.  The premier, a great cook himself, launches into seafood pie production in mid-December.  He produces some 20 seafood pies filled with mussels, lobster, bar clams, scallops, and some fin fish like salmon, trout, or haddock.

Premier Wade MacLaughlan's Seafood Pie
Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Seafood Pie

Premier MacLauchlan uses grated potatoes that have been cooked in seafood stock to make a heavy starchy paste which eliminates the need for flour as a thickener for the pie filling.  The ingredients are combined and placed inside a double-crusted pastry and baked.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan's Seafood Pie
Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Seafood Pie

When asked what he does with all the pies, he tells me he gives them away as gifts. And, for those who aren’t seafood lovers, he makes tourtière and says he usually makes between 6 and 10 of those each December.

Food also plays a part in a Solstice Sunrise Party that the premier has been hosting at his home for almost two decades.  Held annually on the day of the winter solstice, the premier says he simply couldn’t stop it now even if he wanted to because the regulars would just show up anyway! Rising early to make 3-4 dozen muffins and to brew a couple of urns of coffee, the premier opens his doors at 7:30am and people start arriving to watch the sunrise together around 8:00am. It’s not uncommon for 75-80 people to attend. With a commanding view to the east and to the south out over Stanhope Bay, it’s a time for family, friends, and neighbours to visit and re-connect. Everyone brings food to contribute to the potluck event which is set up buffet style.

Christmas Day is spent with immediate family and, on Boxing Day, the larger extended MacLauchlan family gather at the premier’s home for a potluck brunch.

The premier has kindly shared his recipe for his Seafood Pie which is printed here with Wade MacLauchlan’s permission.  The premier says, although the recipe yield is for 20 pies, the recipe is easily scalable.

Wade MacLauchlan's Seafood Pie Recipe
Premier Wade MacLauchlan's Seafood Pie
Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Seafood Pie

Peter Bevan-Baker, Leader of the Green Party of Prince Edward Island

Communal family cooking has always played a significant part in Peter Bevan-Baker’s life starting when he was a lad growing up in Fortrose, just north of Inverness, in the Highlands of Scotland. The family would all prepare the Christmas dinner together, chopping vegetables and singing Christmas carols.

Member of the Legislature and Leader of the Green Party of PEI, Peter’s first and foremost memory of a food enjoyed at Christmas time is his late father’s vol-au-vent made with leftover turkey from Christmas dinner and served with Sauce Robert, a brown mustard sauce. Sometimes, the vol-au-vents would be served as nibbles but other times as the main for a meal when they would be served with “tatties and neeps”, the Scottish names for potatoes and turnips, respectively.

Plum Pudding
Plum Pudding

When asked what Christmas dinner dessert consisted of, Peter says it was always Christmas Pudding which he did not like at all!  However, he says the arrival of the pudding at the dinner table was quite an elaborate ceremony. Everyone stood up and literally lifted the table off the floor to meet the pudding – it was a true salute to the Christmas pudding! Of course, some alcohol would be heated, poured over the pudding, and the pudding set aflame. Peter claims watching the pudding burn was the best part since he had no liking for the pudding! His father made a brandy butter to serve with the pudding. Peter says another great memory he has of Christmas as a young boy in the Scottish Highlands was visiting a rich family who lived in the area and who served Coca Cola at Christmas which was very special since it was not something he had at home.

Peter’s father was a great cook and modeled to his children that it was okay for men to be in the kitchen cooking. Today, Peter and his wife have four adult children (two of whom are chefs) and cooking remains very much a family event. Vol-au-vents will make an appearance over the holidays in keeping with his long-standing family tradition. While the family usually has a turkey dinner for Christmas, Peter says it will usually be with a contemporary twist of some sort that may include some dishes from other cultures.

Bill Martin, Mayor of Summerside and Owner of the Water Street Bakery

Mayor of the City of Summerside, Bill Martin has very fond memories of waking up on Christmas morning to the scent of meat pies baking.  His mother, a Scottish war bride, had an absolute Christmas morning tradition and that involved homemade meat pies.  The family enjoyed the meat pies, complete with homemade mustard pickles, after opening presents on Christmas morning.  Mayor Martin continues that tradition today. He and his family enjoy Christmas breakfast of bacon, eggs, homefries, and toast along with the meat pie and mustard pickles.  To this tradition, they have also added the Acadian dish, Rapure, a grated potato casserole.

Acadian Rapure
Acadian Rapure

Mayor Martin and his wife have run the Water Street Bakery for the past 29 years. They make meat pies year-round now and, in December alone, they will make more than 2000 meat pies which are made with pork, chicken, turkey, potato, onion, and spices, all covered in a biscuit dough crust.  These pies are in such demand during the Christmas period that the bakery has rented additional freezer space. In fact, on the first Saturday in December, they made 200 meat pies and sold 100 of them the same day. As a bakery owner, the other two most popular items that Martin says never go out of style are the chocolate-covered peanut butter balls and the cherry balls, both of which are available at the bakery only at Christmas which makes them more special treats.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

Irwin MacKinnon, Executive Chef, Papa Joe’s Restaurant and PEI Chef of the Year 2017

Long-time executive chef at Charlottetown’s Papa Joe’s Restaurant and recently-named PEI Chef of the Year 2017, Chef Irwin MacKinnon says it would not be Christmas in his household without the “Jimmy Jams”.  These delightful cookies have been made by ancestors on his mother’s side for years. Today, his mom is the principle baker of these Christmas treats that his children look forward to each Christmas.  As MacKinnon describes them, Jimmy-Jams are two round shortbread cookies, about 1½“ – 2” in diameter, sandwiched together with plain white icing.  Each sandwiched cookie is iced again on top and then decorated with rainbow-colored sprinkles.

Everyone has his or her own version of the stuffing for the turkey and Chef MacKinnon discovered how important that tradition is when he and his wife married 25 years ago.  On his side of the family, they make what he calls “Grammie’s Stuffing” which is bread-based and the ingredients are bound together by mashed potato and lots of butter and seasoned with onion, summer savory, and salt and pepper.  A bit of brown sugar is added just to give a sweet tone.  On his wife’s side of the family, they make the stuffing (dressing) completely opposite and Chef Irwin classes it as a potato stuffing made with mashed potatoes, onion cooked in butter, and seasoned with summer savory.  This is baked in the oven and there is no bread in this version.  If you are an Islander, you’ll get and appreciate the significance of family recipes for the turkey stuffing/dressing!

Roast Turkey
Roast Turkey

So, whose stuffing recipe will be on the Christmas table in the MacKinnon household this year? You guessed it – Irwin will be making his grammie’s stuffing recipe to go along with the fresh turkey from Larkin Brothers in New Glasgow. To this, he’ll include a wide variety of veggies that include potatoes, turnip, carrots, squash, and brussel sprouts.

For dessert, Chef Irwin’s mother-in-law’s plum pudding will grace the table complemented by Irwin’s rich brown sugar sauce made from a rue of butter and flour with caramelized brown sugar added.  Chef Irwin says a slice of pudding topped with ice cream and a good drizzle of a glossy brown sugar sauce is the ultimate Christmas dinner dessert.

Since he cooks everyday for a living, I asked Chef Irwin if he lets someone else cook the Christmas dinner but he says it’s him that spearheads the dinner at home and one of his greatest joys is to cook for his own family.  Other members of the family pitch in and bring contributions to the dinner as the family melds their different traditions from their blended families.

Glenda Burt, Chef, and former owner of The Home Place Restaurant in Kensington, PEI

For Chef Glenda Burt, the highlight of the Christmas dinner is the plum pudding and warm sauce.  She says that, even though you might be “stuffed to the gills” from the main meal, there is always room for plum pudding!  Glenda makes a rich toffee sauce to serve with her plum pudding, a sauce made with brown sugar, whipping cream, butter, and vanilla.

Plum Pudding
Plum Pudding

Glenda grew up in the family that originally owned Mary’s Bakery in Kensington so baking and candy making are certainly second nature to her. She has very fond memories of the chocolate, brown sugar, and divinity fudges that her mother made at Christmas and how they would appear in a plastic Christmas motif tri-sectioned dish on Christmas Eve. Homemade raisin bread toasted on Christmas morning is an annual tradition in the Burt household. Glenda doesn’t prepare a big Christmas Day breakfast because she says the whole day is spent eating; however, the raisin bread must be present to start the day off.

Other foods that will make their appearance over the holidays will be gingersnaps, dark fruitcake, meat pies (that Glenda says are pure comfort food) and, in deference to our Maritime culture, some kind of seafood which could be lobster in the shell or seafood chowder.

Chef Glenda is hosting her family Christmas on Boxing Day this year and she will be doing the cooking of the traditional Christmas dinner that will include roast turkey, stuffing, and veggies. Glenda will be serving her famous turnip casserole as well. This yummy dish is made with mashed turnip, a white sauce with Parmesan cheese, and topped with buttered bread crumbs.  Of course, all the traditional fixins’ like homemade rolls, pickles, and beets will be on the table to complement the turkey dinner.

 

My thanks to Premier Wade MacLauchlan, Leader of the PEI Green Party Peter Bevan-Baker, Mayor Bill Martin, Chef Irwin MacKinnon, and Chef Glenda Burt for sharing their Christmas food traditions with me.

Tap the Toes and Taste the Taters!

 

PEI is Canada's Food Island
PEI is Canada’s Food Island

Well, what’s a potato farmer on Canada’s Food Island to do if he has a big warehouse empty and waiting for this fall’s crop to be dug from the rich red soil of Prince Edward Island?  Might as well have a party in that warehouse and may as well include a couple of hundred people and a celebrity chef too!

That’s exactly what potato producer, Alex Docherty of Sherwood Produce Inc., did on September 8, 2017, when he provided the host location for a big potato-themed kitchen-style party.  For anyone who wanted to hobnob with a culinary celebrity, chow down on some good PEI food, and enjoy some fine traditional PEI music, this event offered the perfect way to indulge all three.

Dinner in the Warehouse
Dinner in the Warehouse

Toes, Taps, and Taters is an annual event that is part of the PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival.  I had attended this event in 2013 when it was held in the Potato Museum in O’Leary and it was a rollicking good time (click here for the link to that story).  This year, the location changed to a potato warehouse in Canoe Cove on the Island’s South Shore, about a 20-25 minute drive from Charlottetown and organizers pulled out all the stops! Toes, Taps, and Taters is a signature event of the Festival which means that a celebrity chef is in the house as guest host; this year, that was Chef Chuck Hughes who is quite the character! There is never a dull moment when Chef Chuck is at a culinary event!

Chef Chuck Hughes
Chef Chuck Hughes

I arrived at the location around 5:15pm on a beautiful, sunny September evening, one of those late summer days that is just made for a fun party with outside activities.  As folks arrived, they were greeted with the evocative skirl of bagpipes from a lone piper just up the hill from the warehouse.

Piper
Piper at Toes, Taps, and Taters – PEI Fall Flavours 2017

Of course, Tate, the PEI potato mascot, was on hand and loved to have his photo taken.

Tate
Tate – The mascot for the PEI Potato Industry

Anyone wishing to go and experience digging his or her own potatoes was welcome to board the haywagon and go for a hayride to the potato field.

Off to the Field to Dig Potatoes!
Off to the Field to Dig Potatoes!

Take a gander at the size of that little tractor!

Hayride
Hayride to the Potato Field

Just at the entrance to the warehouse, well-known local chef and cheesemaker, Jeff McCourt from Glasgow Glen Farm, was cooking up a storm and the scent of food cooking over an open fire was an automatic draw to see what he was up to. He brought along some of the Gouda cheese he makes and tantalized taste buds with his Island-style Raclette.

Raclette
Island-style Raclette

Raclette, of Swiss-German origins, involves heating cheese over an open fire then scraping it with a knife over cooked (usually boiled) potatoes. Well, you had me at melted gouda! And, those sweet little multi-colored PEI baby potatoes!

PEI Baby Potatoes
PEI Baby Potatoes

That’s a gooda Gouda!

Raclette
Raclette in the making

The potatoes were cooked in cast iron pots over free-standing burning logs and the cheese was carefully melted over similar log fires under the watchful eye of Chef Jeff.

Cooking Potatoes Over an Log Fire
Cooking Potatoes Over an Log Fire

Part of the experience of attending culinary events is to see and learn different ways of cooking and experience traditional foods like potato and cheese turned into a different form.

Melting Cheese for Raclette
Chef Jeff McCourt melts Gouda cheese over open fire for Raclette

Why does food cooked outdoors always seem to smell and taste sooooo good?

Oyster Bay Bubbly
Oyster Bay Bubbly

Upon entering the warehouse, diners were greeted with a glass of Oyster Bay bubbly. They also had the opportunity to sample blueberry ale brewed by Upstreet Craft Brewing of Charlottetown.

Upstreet Brewing Company's Blueberry Ale
Upstreet Craft Brewing’s Blueberry Ale

Several stations with hors d’oeuvres were set up and folks moved around the stations at their leisure.

Toes, Taps, and Taters Reception (2017)
Toes, Taps, and Taters Reception (2017)

Potatoes, of course, featured prominently in most of the hors d’oeuvres starting with Russet Potato Risotto Style.

Russet Potato Risotto with Aged Island Gouda and Pickled Red Onion
Russet Potato Risotto with Aged Island Gouda and Pickled Red Onion

These two guys were kept busy preparing the tasty Risotta!

Making Russet Potato Risotto
Making Russet Potato Risotto

With hand pies being a trendy item, the Bacon-Leek Potato Hand Pies served with sour cream and chives proved to be a popular stop on the hors d’oeuvres circuit.

Bacon-Leek Potato Hand Pies served with sour cream and chives
Bacon-Leek Potato Hand Pies served with sour cream and chives

There were, of course, lots of options to try from the PEI charcuterie table.

PEI Charcuterie Table
PEI Charcuterie Table

Zillions of fries are made each year from PEI potatoes so, naturally, French Fries would have to factor in somewhere during the event.  Islanders love their mussels and their fries so Chef Irwin MacKinnon (pictured below) combined the two and served the mussels with roasted garlic aioli. At this point, little did I know that this guy was also in charge of catering the main meal, too!

Moules Frites
Chef Irwin MacKinnon serves up Mussels and Fries with Roasted Garlic Aioli

Yes, these Moules Frites were “right some good”!

Moules Frites (Mussels with Fries)
Moules Frites (Mussels with Fries)

There can’t be a good party on PEI without great music and Sheila MacKenzie on fiddle and Norman Stewart on guitar provided lively toe-tapping music throughout the reception preceding the dinner. It was traditional PEI ceilidh style music.

Entertainers Sheila MacKenzie (fiddle) and Norman Stewart (guitar)
Entertainers Sheila MacKenzie (fiddle) and Norman Stewart (guitar)

They were also joined by two very talented and energetic step dancers, Alanna and Shelby Dalziel.

Entertainers Sheila MacKenzie (fiddle) and Norman Stewart (guitar)
Entertainers Sheila MacKenzie (fiddle) and Norman Stewart (guitar) with step dancers Alanna and Shelby Dalziel

Rob Barry proved to be an entertaining MC and he and Chef Chuck Hughes kept the evening lively with lots of banter and audience engagement.

Celebrity Chef Chuck Hughes (left) and MC Rob Berry (right) at Toes, Taps & Taters PEI Fall Flavors Culinary Festival Event (2017)
Celebrity Chef Chuck Hughes (left) and MC Rob Barry (right) at Toes, Taps & Taters PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival Event (2017)

Part of the evening included the swearing in of everyone in attendance as honorary Islanders for the evening which involved the citing of the Potato Oath and, of course, a little swig of, umm, perhaps potato vodka, to make it official. This was followed by a rousing chorus of Stompin’ Tom’s “Bud the Spud”.

Potato Oath
Potato Oath

Part of the warehouse was transformed into a large country dining room with tables attractively set with red and white checkered tablecloths.

Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner - PEI Fall Flavors Culinary Festival 2017, Canoe Cove
Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner – PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival 2017, Canoe Cove

Creative centerpieces were mason jars filled with multi-colored baby PEI potatoes and mini lights.

PEI Baby Potatoes Light up the Tables
PEI Baby Potatoes Light up the Tables

Here’s a closer look at one of the tables.

Close-up of one of the tables at Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner, Canoe Cove, PEI (2017)
Close-up of one of the tables at Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner, Canoe Cove, PEI (2017)

Can you imagine that this was all taking place in a huge potato warehouse in which, up to three weeks previous, had tons of potatoes in it? It’s true.

Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017
Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017
Placesetting at Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017
Placesetting at Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017

And, here was the menu:

Menu for 2017 Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner
Menu for 2017 Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner

As you might guess, the dinner was a potato feast and potato was featured in each of the courses starting with the appetizer which was a delectable salmon-haddock potato fish cake that was served with marinated Island Blue Mussel salad and lemon caper dill. This was plated very attractively. (Apologies for the quality of these photos as they don’t do the meal justice but this was all taking place inside a huge cavernous warehouse that was eating up the light so studio quality photography wasn’t an option. Hopefully, though, the photos will give readers a ‘flavour’ for the menu items.)

Appetizer - Salmon Haddock Potato Fish Cake, Marinated Island Blue Mussel Salad, Lemon Caper Dill (Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017)
Appetizer – Salmon Haddock Potato Fish Cake, Marinated Island Blue Mussel Salad, Lemon Caper Dill (Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017)

The main course consisted of slow-roasted certified Island beef prime rib cooked to perfection and served with red wine Rosemary jus, beef drippings Yorkshire pudding, roasted garlic-horseradish whipped PEI potatoes, sweet pea purée, roasted squash stuffed with seasonal vegetables. This was a potato and beef lover’s dream meal!

PEI Prime Rib, Yorkshire Pudding, Whipped PEI Potatoes, Sweet Pea Purée, and Seasonal Vegetables Stuffed in Roasted Squash (Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017)
PEI Prime Rib, Yorkshire Pudding, Whipped PEI Potatoes, Sweet Pea Purée, and Seasonal Vegetables Stuffed in Roasted Squash (Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017)
PEI Prime Rib, Yorkshire Pudding, Whipped PEI Potatoes, Sweet Pea Purée, and Seasonal Vegetables Stuffed in Roasted Squash (Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017)
PEI Prime Rib, Yorkshire Pudding, Whipped PEI Potatoes, Sweet Pea Purée, and Seasonal Vegetables Stuffed in Roasted Squash (Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017)

And, for dessert, a delectable wild blueberry cobbler was served in a mason jar and garnished with a chocolate-dipped potato chip and whipped cream. Yes, even the dessert had potato in it!

Blueberry Cobbler with Chocolate Dipped Potato Chip and Whipped Cream (Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017)
Blueberry Cobbler with Chocolate Dipped Potato Chip and Whipped Cream (Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017)

Now, you might wonder how such an elaborate meal could be served in a potato warehouse for some 200 people.  Well, Chef Irwin MacKinnon from Papa Joe’s Restaurant in Charlottetown was in charge of the meal preparation and the mobile kitchen in the photo below is the one he brought into the warehouse to use for the meal preparation.

PEI Chef, Irwin MacKinnon, Caterer to the 2017 Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner in Canoe Cove, PEI
PEI Chef, Irwin MacKinnon, Caterer to the 2017 Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner in Canoe Cove, PEI

Can you imagine the amount of organization and coordination that would have been involved to prepare and serve this meal and it was all done in a trailer/mobile kitchen inside a potato warehouse!

Behind the Scenes at Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017
Behind the Scenes at Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017
Behind the Scenes at Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017
Behind the Scenes at Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner 2017

The evening ended with a performance by Trinity Bradshaw, an up and coming country music artist from Summerside, PEI.

Islander and Upcoming Country Music Artist, Trinity Bradshaw, Performs at the 2017 Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner in Canoe Cove, PEI
Islander and Upcoming Country Music Artist, Trinity Bradshaw, Performs at the 2017 Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner in Canoe Cove, PEI

This event was the full-meal deal – great food and entertainment. It was very well coordinated and the attention to detail by organizers and chefs ensured this was a first-rate event.  The passion and pride of the PEI potato farming community was displayed at every turn.

Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner in Canoe Cove, PEI (2017)
Toes, Taps, and Taters Dinner in Canoe Cove, PEI (2017)

I have always said two of the best ways to experience the culture of a place are to check out the local food and regional music. Visitors can learn a lot about a place through the food a place produces and the genres that form the local music scene. There were a large number of visitors from off-Island who sought out this event with the farthest coming from Belgium.  Some attendees schedule their entire vacations around the festival and return year after year.  In fact, at my table, there were new visitors from Ontario and repeat visitors from Western Canada and this was their fourth year coming for the Fall Flavours Festival.  This year they attended three culinary events, including the popular Lobster on the Beach event for their third time.  A testament to the calibre of the PEI Fall Flavours events that showcase the wonderful food of this very special food island on Canada’s east coast.

To read stories I have written about other PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival events, follow these links:

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)
Feast and Frolic Dinner (PEI International Shellfish Festival) (2014)
Beef and Blues (2014)
A Taste of New Glasgow (2015)
Beef ‘n Blues (2015)
Chef on Board (2015)
Cooking with Chefs Anna & Michael Olson in Brudenell, PEI (2015)
Le Festin acadien avec homard/Acadian Feast with Lobster (2016)
The Great Big Barbeque (2016)
Mussels on the Hill (2016)

Photos and story about the 2017 Toes, Taps, and Taters culinary event that was part of the Prince Edward Island Fall Flavors Festival