Tag Archives: Lieutenant-Governor of Prince Edward Island

Stepping Outside the Breadbox: Meet Creative Chef Ilona Daniel

 

Chef Ilona Daniel
Chef Ilona Daniel

The chef profession is changing and evolving, probably faster than ever before in history.  No longer are chefs hidden away in their kitchens.  Today, many are taking the profession and their career to unheard-of heights.  TV cooking shows, culinary events like PEI’s Fall Flavors, the popularity of cookbooks written by accomplished chefs, and chefs who engage and interact with fans via social media have all contributed to giving many chefs celebrity status.  One of those is Chef Ilona Daniel.  If you are a foodie on Prince Edward Island, chances are that you are familiar with Chef Ilona.  This is a chef who has had a multi-faceted career to date and is not afraid to think (and step) outside the box – in fact, I’d go so far as to say Chef Ilona doesn’t even know there is a box!

Following her educational experience at McMaster University, Ilona thought she was heading to law school when suddenly her life took a turn in another direction.  If it hadn’t been for her taking the leap of faith to follow her passion and calling, chances are Ilona might not have become a chef.

Ilona grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, and learned the pleasure of fine cooking by standing at the kitchen counter by the stove as she watched her mom prepare meals.  Cooking was an integral part of her entire being in her formative years and she attributes her mom as having a big influence on her love of cooking.

A chef now for 12 years, Ilona’s first job as a teenager was working in a burger joint at the age of 16.  Even then, whether she knew it or not, her life’s path was already being charted in the food industry.  After making the decision that law school was not her destiny, Ilona studied at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute in Niagara, Ontario.  After completing her studies in Niagara, she was awarded a full scholarship for the Applied Degree in Culinary Operations at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI, and was in the first graduating class from the two-year program.  Like many others who have found their way to PEI, Ilona fell in love with the Island and decided to make it her home.

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Chef Ilona Meticulous at Work

Since graduating from culinary school, Chef Ilona has had an incredibly varied career.  She has been the Head Chef at the Stanhope Beach Resort, Interim Chef at Sims and Off Broadway Restaurants, Founding Chef at the Brickhouse, Executive Chef to the Lieutenant-Governor of PEI at Fanningbank, Executive Chef of Holland College’s Culinary Boot Camps, Resident Food Scene Writer for G Magazine, and Culinary Instructor at the PC Cooking School at the local Superstore.  And, that’s not all.  This fall, she was the Culinary Expert for the PEI2014 Roadshow that travelled across Canada to promote the planned events in PEI in 2014 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference that led to the creation of Canada.  Perhaps you may have seen Chef Ilona on one of several morning TV shows.  Most recently, Chef Ilona has started her own Catering and Consulting Business — Tribe Fresh Cookery.  This is a gal who likes to be busy!

Shucking lobsters live on Global BC Morning Show
Shucking lobsters live on Global BC Morning Show

Out of this impressive resume, I asked Chef Ilona which job was the most interesting.  Her response was starting her own business because she is building it from the ground up.  Her most challenging job was working at the Stanhope Beach Resort because it was a seasonal operation so it meant every year was starting all over again with new staff to be trained quickly.  The job that surprised her the most was being Executive Chef to PEI’s Lieutenant-Governor.  In this role, she prepared food for many events and functions that included a number of award ceremonies to honour Islanders who were making a difference to their communities.  This allowed her to see what a generous and giving community PEI really is.  While in this role, Ilona became the first chef at Fanningbank to use social media to tell the story of what food was being prepared for their Honours and for events. Chef Ilona says her most fulfilling job has been her role as Executive Chef of the Culinary Boot Camps.  Chef Ilona particularly enjoys the Kids Camps where they are shown how to grow vegetables and make their own food.  It’s an opportunity to influence the next generation to eat well.

Teaching at the Kids Culinary Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI
Teaching at the Kids Culinary Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI

Chef Ilona’s philosophy in cooking is to “cook with love and don’t be afraid to be different”.  She says “there are Chefs whose food can be executed but not necessarily made with passion”.  She does not follow trends but rather follows her heart and takes the road less traveled.  Her belief is that food should be natural and real.  As she says, “good food inspires conversation and doesn’t have to be complicated; use the best local ingredients executed with flawless technique and care about what you are doing”.

I asked Chef Ilona what inspires the recipes and menus she creates.  First, she says she needs to know who her audience is. She makes a point of respecting any dietary concerns they may have and is excited to be creative to cook interesting and tasty foods that meet their dietary requirements.

Gluten-free Boston Cream Pies Prepared for a Function at Fanningbank, home of the Lieutenant-Governor of PEI
Gluten-free Boston Cream Pies Prepared for a Function at Fanningbank, home of the Lieutenant-Governor of PEI

Second, she likes to play on nostalgia, conjuring up memories like the tantalizing scent of apple pie, for example, that will lead to good conversation which goes hand-in-hand with dining.  Third, she respects the cultural roots of the region and is creative when cooking with the foods local to the region.

Telling the Truth About Male and Female Lobsters
Telling the Truth About Male and Female Lobsters

With so many prepared, frozen, and ready-to-go meals on the market today, I asked Chef Ilona why there seems to have been a resurgence in home cooking in the past few years.  She believes it is attributable to a number of health issues, including highly publicized food-born illnesses that were caused by contaminated food.  This has caused consumers to be more concerned about buying modified foods that are full of preservatives and, instead, they are becoming more health-conscious and so are turning to making their own meals.

What’s next for Chef Ilona?  She tells me she is working on a cookbook and exploring the possibility of filming some TV cooking shows.  In the short-term, she is busy getting her Catering and Consulting business up and running.  Ever thinking outside the box, Chef Ilona is offering what she calls “Kitchen Party Cooking Classes”.  This is where she will come to your home and teach you and a small group of friends how to interactively cook a particular dish – e.g., sushi, gourmet pizza, pies, etc.  This is way to engage foodies and get them participating in food preparation, all in the comfort of their own home.  What a great idea for a girls night out, a bachelorette party, or just a get-together for no other reason other than good conversation and food.  If you are interested in having Chef Ilona cater to your event or customize a Kitchen Party Cooking Class, contact her at 902-316-0993 or by email at chef.ilona.daniel@gmail.com

Chef Ilona Teaching
Chef Ilona Teaching

Before we ended our chat, I asked Chef Ilona to answer some short snapper questions:

1.  What is the one kitchen tool/gadget you can’t live without?

Can’t pick just one – have the “fast five” – Chef’s knife, small serrated paring knife, a Swiss peeler, a microplane, and a good quality cutting board.

2.  What is your all time favorite food?

Pizza – any kind!

3.  What is the one non-culinary factoid about Chef Ilona that people might not know about?

I’m a hippie at heart – I like nature and will actually, “stop and smell the roses.”

4.  What do you do when you are not cooking?

I like reading, nature hikes, listening to music, and going to concerts.

5.  What is your favorite recipe featuring an Island product?  Care to share it?

Swedish Potato Casserole. It uses PEI potatoes and PEI-produced Cows Creamery cheese.  (Recipe follows)

 

Swedish Potato Casserole

3 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tsp mace (or nutmeg)
6 eggs, beaten
3 cups Whipping Cream
½ cup flour
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 lb grated Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 cups Cows Aged Cheddar, grated

As you preheat your oven to 375 (use convection baking if you have that option), preheat your 4-6 quart baking dish with 4-6 tbsp butter in the oven.

Whisk thoroughly, the first 6 ingredients together(approximately 3 minutes).  Stir in the potatoes. Pour mixture into the hot casserole dish.  QUICKLY top with cheese, and place back into oven immediately.

Bake for 45 minutes.

 

Waiting for Lobsters to Cook in the Sandpit
Waiting for Lobsters to Cook in the Sandpit

Keep an eye on this rising celebrity chef as she progresses in her career.  Chef Ilona is very creative, brimming with ideas and personality, and she’s going places in her chosen career!

 

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

Be sure to visit my Facebook page at My Island Bistro Kitchen.  You may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro, on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”, and on Instagram at PEIBistro.

 

Happy New Year! Touring Some of PEI’s 2013 New Year’s Day Levées and Sampling Levée Fare

Happy New Year, everyone!  Today, I followed a New Year’s Day tradition in Prince Edward Island — attending several levées in Charlottetown.  There were many of these events across the Island today.  The list below is just a partial list of those in the Charlottetown-Cornwall-Stratford, PEI areas.  One man told me that he had attended as many as 23 levées on one New Year’s Day!   We certainly didn’t partake in that many but we did attend six.

Sampling of Charlottetown Area 2013 Levées

Levées have their origins in France.  The first recorded Levée held in Canada was in 1646.  Originally, these were events reserved for men but, for decades now, women also attend.  The purpose of levées is to give the opportunity for citizens to pay their respects and offer well wishes for the new year to representatives of the Monarch, provincial and municipal leaders, the military and, really, any other group or organization that chooses to host a Levée.  In Charlottetown today, for example, the President of the University of Prince Edward Island was hosting a levée as was the Bishop, the Women’s Institute, and some business owners.  Levées are very social events and are traditionally a way for those in public office to connect with the citizens they serve and for people to mix and mingle while renewing old acquaintances as they gather. 

Typically a levée lasts 1-2 hours.  Calling cards or business cards are appreciated as each levée-goer is presented to the dignitaries.  However, if you don’t have your own cards, blank ones are available at each venue.  It is not uncommon for groups of people to sport around in mini-vans with designated drivers or hire a bus or mini-bus to transport them between the levée venues.  This is a particularly good idea for those intending to “imbibe”.  It also helps with parking as levées on the Island are a popular way to spend New Year’s Day and, generally, draw crowds of several hundred. 

Bus Carrying Levée-goers arrives at City Hall Levée

Some people actually strategize and plan out the best way for them to attend as many levées as possible.  Some have it down to a science!

A big part of levées are the refreshments.  In PEI, we can certainly boast of our hospitality and refreshments at events like levées!  The fare and beverage offerings vary from venue to venue but, suffice it to say that you wouldn’t have to visit too many levées before your tummy would be full.  I’ll talk more about the refreshment aspect as I describe the six levées I attended today.  As you can imagine, as a foodie, I was particularly interested in the fare served!

Our day started out at 10:00am by visiting Fanningbank, home of the Island’s Lieutenant-Governor, Frank Lewis. 

Levée-goers entering Fanningbank

Last year, it was drizzling rain and we had a long wait outside but, this year, we were there at the start of the levée and had no wait to speak of.  Good thing as it was about -7C this morning.  The architecture of this fine Georgian-style home is well worth a visit.  The Christmas decorations were still in place and the wood fireplaces were crackling and sending good warmth throughout the home. 

The Singing Strings, a youth string orchestra, entertained and provided wonderful background music as visitors wound their way around the grand foyer to greet the Lieutenant-Governor and his wife. 

Singing Strings Entertain at Lieutenant-Governor’s 2013 New Year’s Day Levée

 

Lieutenant-Governor Frank Lewis greets well-wishers at 2013 Levée

After bestowing good wishes for the forthcoming year to Her Majesty’s representative on the Island, attendees were offered the choice of either hot apple cider or a cranberry and vodka cocktail. 

Apple Cider or Cranberry and Vodka Cocktail

The dining room table displayed several plates of fruit cake (which was very moist and tasty, by the way) and, what I considered to be the star of the food table, wonderful coconut macaroons, nice, soft, and chewy – just the way macaroons are supposed to be! 

Fanningbank Fare

Aren’t these coconut macaroons resplendent in their holiday colors!

 

Coconut Macaroons at Fanningbank Levée

 

From Fanningbank, we made our way up Kent Street to City Hall where Mayor Clifford Lee and the city councillors were receiving Levée-goers.  Our City’s leaders looked fine, each sporting a red rose on his lapel. 

Mayor Lee and City Councillors at City Hall’s 2013 Levée

Treats at City Hall included crackers and cheese along with cookies including gingerbread men.  Beverages consisted of a choice of white wine, fruit punch, tea, or Starbuck’s coffee. 

City Hall Levée Fare

PEI harpist, Jill Harris, provided wonderful background music for the event.

Harpist Jill Harris at Charlottetown City Hall Levée 2013

 

Leaving City Hall, we travelled down to Haviland Street to the Haviland Club.  I had never been in this historic building before and found its interior design quite intriguing.  Refreshments consisted of cheese, crackers, and cold cuts along with a vegetable and dip platter and the bar was open at the Club today as well.

Haviland Club Levée

 

Our next stop took us to the HMCS Queen Charlotte on Water Street Parkway.  I had heard that they served great seafood chowder at their Levée and, as those of you who are regular followers of my blog and twitter will know, this foodie has a thing for seafood chowder!  This version was really good served with a choice of white or whole wheat roll.  Their signature beverage was Moose Milk.  Yes, that’s right, Moose Milk – not quite sure on the exact ingredients but it is a concoction of rum or whiskey (not sure which), milk or eggnog, ice cream, and spices and …..  I didn’t get to try it because I was driving but I heard it was really good!

Moose Milk and Seafood Chowder at HMCS Queen Charlotte Levée

 

Next on the agenda was the Prince Edward Island Regiment on Haviland Street.  These two lads stood at attention as levée-goers made their way inside and I’m sure these two fellas must have been frozen. 

Members of the Prince Edward Island Regiment Stand Guard at Entrance to the Regiment’s 2013 Levée

The PEI Regiment band was entertaining inside.  The Regiment served chowder as well and had the packages of crackers laid out in the shape of 2013.  Having just had chowder up the street, I had to pass this one by but it sure looked good, too.

 

Prince Edward Island Regiment Levée

 

After a busy morning of five levées, we took a mini break and then attended Premier Robert Ghiz‘ levée held from 3:00pm – 5:00pm at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in the city center where the Premier and his wife, Kate, along with their two wee daughters greeted Islanders.

There was a huge line-up for this levée but we arrived about 20 minutes before it began and were easily able to get inside the lobby from the cold while we waited.  Each attendee was photographed with the Premier and his wife (last year, the photographs arrived in the mail 2-3 weeks into January). 

Premier’s 2013 Levée

The reception was held inside Memorial Hall where there were trays of fruit, cheeses, and crudités and waiters circulated with trays of bacon-wrapped scallops.  

Levée Fare at the PEI Premier’s 2013 New Year’s Day Levée

My favorite was the same as last year, a whipped garlic potato piped into small dishes and then topped with  bacon bits, sundried tomatoes and chives, and/or sour cream.  Simply divine! 

Whipped Garlic Potato with Toppings

 

Fruit punch, wine, tea, and coffee were also available. 


Fruit Punch

 

A pianist provided background music.

 

Musical Entertainment at Premier’s Levée

 

I hope you have enjoyed this mini-tour of just a few of the New Year’s Day levées held on our beautiful Island on this cool winter day. 

Best wishes to you and yours for good health, happiness, and prosperity in 2013.

Barbara