Tag Archives: oysters

Aw, Shucks! The Merroir of PEI Malpeque Oysters

PEI Malpeque Oysters
PEI Malpeque Oysters

Prince Edward Island is well-known for its variety of high quality shellfish – think lobster, mussels, and oysters, in particular.  Today, however, my blog posting is all about the world-famous PEI Malpeque oysters. According to the PEI Government website (https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/agriculture-and-fisheries/oysters ), the Island is Canada’s second largest oyster producing province and is the largest oyster producing province in the Atlantic region. It’s not uncommon in my travels to find PEI Malpeque Oysters on a restaurant menu.  No matter the variety or brand of oysters from PEI, or what part of the Island they are fished or farmed, they are generally all referred to as “Malpeques”.  How that came to be is, itself, an interesting story.

PEI oysters have a long history with the government issuing leases for oyster fishing back as far as the mid-1800s to those wishing to fish oysters from the ocean seabed.  The oysters were made famous at the 1900 Paris World Fair where, in an oyster-tasting contest, they were crowned the world’s best oysters. The oysters were simply named for Malpeque Bay on the Island’s north shore from where the winning oysters were fished.

However, the oyster industry on PEI was stricken in 1915 when disease wiped out about 90% of the Island’s oyster population. Miraculously, however, the oysters in Malpeque Bay survived.  Seed (which is basically a tiny version of an adult oyster) from these oysters was gathered and spread throughout other bodies of water around the Island and the oyster industry rebounded. To this day, over 100 years later, all oysters produced on PEI are considered to be direct descendants of oysters from Malpeque Bay. So, that’s why all PEI oysters, regardless from what part of the Island they come, or what variety or brand they are, are called “Malpeques”.  Who knew PEI oysters had lineage and a family tree! So, while there is one species – the Malpeques – there can be any number of varieties and brands. A little more about the varieties of “Malpeques” a bit later.

To find out more about the oyster industry on PEI, I paid a visit to the Raspberry Point Oyster Co., one of the Island’s largest oyster growing operators, processors, and exporters.  At the company’s hub operations center in Bayview near Cavendish on PEI’s north shore, I caught up with James Power, oyster connoisseur and manager of the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.

James Power, Manager, Raspberry Point Oyster Co., PEI
James Power, Manager, Raspberry Point Oyster Co., PEI

James lives and breathes oysters and you would be hard pressed to find anyone any more passionate about the oyster industry than James.  And, with good reason.  Oyster sales are brisk for the Raspberry Point Oyster Co., growing year over year.  James tells me that more than 10M oysters are cultured annually from the company’s farming operations in New London Bay, Rustico, and Oyster Bed Bridge/Rustico Bay. While the majority (about 90%) of their sales are in North America (with Montreal, Toronto, and Boston accounting for about 75% of sales), they regularly ship internationally all over the world that includes weekly shipments to the Netherlands as well as regular shipments to places like Belgium, France, Hong Kong, China, and Singapore. Small wonder, then, why it’s generally not too surprising to find PEI oysters on restaurant menus in all corners of the world!

Both oyster fishing and oyster farming exist on PEI.  The traditional method of oyster fishing is done through the use of manually-operated large wooden tongs.

Oyster Fishing on PEI
Oyster Fishing on PEI

If you travel around the shores, bays, rivers, and estuaries of PEI, a common sight from spring to fall will be dozens of little dories each manned by a lone fisher using long wooden tongs with rakes at the ends to scoop up the oysters. These are independent local oyster fishers who buy licenses from the federal government allowing them to fish wild oysters on any public fishing grounds.

Oyster Fishing
Oyster Fishing

These oysters are known as bottom culture oysters that are slow to mature taking, on average, 5-7 years to grow to the desired market size of 3” – 3½“.  Bottom culture oysters grow slowly because there is less natural food available to them. Oysters harvested by these small independent fishers are sold to oyster processing plants.

Oyster Fishing in Summerside, PEI
Oyster Fishing in Summerside, PEI

The other method of producing oysters is to raise, culture, or grow the oysters, a practice commonly known as “oyster farming” and that’s the method used by large commercial growers for mass production needed to meet demands from around the world. Growers lease ground, that is not public fishing ground, in which to grow their oysters.

There are two methods of oyster aquaculture – bottom culture and off-bottom (sometimes known as top, floating, or surface culture) and Raspberry Point Oyster Co. uses both methods. With bottom culture oysters, grown in water depth between 3’ and 8’, the grower spreads the oyster seed on the seabed. James says their top culture oysters are grown in water that is between 8’ and 15’ deep.  The oyster seed is purchased from hatcheries and from oyster farmers who catch wild spat, or larvae in collectors like the ones in the photo below. Once the oysters are big enough, they will be transferred to netted bags to grow, safe from predators like starfish and crabs.

Oyster Spat Collectors
Oyster Spat Collectors

All oysters at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. are started as top culture in floating mesh bags and then some are moved to bottom culture areas. The type of culture (bottom or top) used is often chosen on the basis of local growing conditions. Some parts of leased areas are too shallow for top culture and others might have too soft a seabed for bottom culture oysters. Using the two methods of farming, therefore, allows the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. to maximize the growing areas in their leases and also allows oysters to develop with different flavours, colors (they range from brown/white, gray to green), and appearance. Generally, the larger oyster seed is spread on the seabed because the oysters’ advanced size makes it more difficult for crabs and starfish to get at them.

Colors and Textures of PEI Oysters
Colors, Shapes, and Textures of PEI Oysters

When the bottom culture oysters have grown to market size, specialized oyster harvesters that use water pressure, scoop up the oysters.  The oysters come up from the seabed on to an escalator and those that are of the desired size are harvested while ones not quite of sufficient size are returned to the seabed bottom to allow them to continue to grow.  Bottom culture oysters usually take 5-7 years to grow to market size and this is because there is usually less water flow and food on the sea bed than is available for surface culture oysters. Oyster farmers do not need to provide special food for their oysters as the bivalves draw all the necessary nutrients from their seawater habitat along with naturally occurring plankton and plant life.  So long as the mollusks have clean water and care is taken to limit their predators access, oysters will grow naturally on their own.

The other method of growing oysters is top culture, often referred to as surface or floating culture. With advances in oyster growing technology and methods, today’s floating aquaculture speeds up the rate of maturation allowing for top culture oysters to be grown in about 3-5 years.  There is usually more constant water flow as the result of wave action during tidal changes and more natural food supplies nearer the water’s surface so oysters grown as top culture in floating bags just at or under the water surface are able to grow to market size sooner.  Top culture oyster farming involves growing the oysters in mesh bags that float in basket-like cages around the water surface level.

Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters

The baskets are constructed so that the water is able to flush through, bringing food to the mollusks and keeping them cleaner than those grown in the mud on the seabed bottom. The baskets are regularly flipped and the water flow and waves rock the baskets and chip away, or manicure, the rough edges of the oysters, giving them a more desirable looking shell. This also allows for seaweed, barnacles, and other organisms that find their way into the baskets to be exposed to sunlight and dry out and not become an infestation to the growing oysters. The bags inside the floating baskets also help to protect the oysters against predators. So, if you see rows of these floating cages in a body of water around the Island, you’ll know they’re filled with growing oysters.

Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI

Once oysters, either bottom or top cultures, have reached their market size, they are brought into the processing plant where they are culled, graded for size and shape, washed, counted, boxed, and are shipped to customers around the world.

Oysters Arriving at the Processing Plant
Oysters Arriving at the Processing Plant
Grading and Sorting Oysters
Grading and Sorting Oysters
Washing the Oysters
Washing the Oysters
Quality Controlling the Oysters Just Before They Are Boxed for Shipping
Quality Controlling the Oysters Just Before They Are Boxed for Shipping
A Box of "Lucky Limes" Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Company in PEI
A Box of “Lucky Limes” Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in PEI
Inside the Processing Plant at Raspberry Point Oyster Company, Bayview, PEI
Inside the Processing Plant at Raspberry Point Oyster Company, Bayview, PEI
Bags of Oysters at the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
Bags of Oysters at the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
Inside the Cold Storage Room at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in Bayview, PEI
Inside the Cold Storage Room at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in Bayview, PEI

Because this industry is now year-round, oysters not needed for immediate shipment are put into trays like the ones shown to the left in the photo below and placed back out into shallow water until needed.

Oyster Trays
Oyster Trays

Since they are already graded, counted, and sorted by variety, they can quickly be retrieved and shipped when orders come in year-round.

The barge in the photo below is returning to shore with a load of trays filled with graded and sorted oysters which will soon be on their way somewhere in the world to fill orders!

Barge Returning to Shore with a Load of Oysters Ready for Market
Barge Returning to Shore with a Load of Oysters Ready for Market
Offloading Oysters Ready for Market
Offloading Oysters Ready for Market

Oysters like cold water but, in PEI’s cold winters, they can’t stay up near the water’s surface where they would freeze. So, for top culture/surface grown oysters, the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. sinks aluminum cages filled with oysters into 15’ – 20’ of water each winter. At the time of writing, the company prepared upwards of 1000 aluminum cages that they filled and sunk with 7000 graded and sorted oysters per cage at the end of November. Locations of cages are marked by a metal pole and the oyster harvesters head out over the ice to retrieve the oysters to fill winter shipments, making the Island’s oyster farming a year-round industry.

Preparing to Saw Through Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages (Photo submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Preparing to Saw Through Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages (Photo submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)

Sometimes, the ice is so thick that workers have to use a high-powered saw (shown in photo above) to cut through the thick ice so that tethered divers can dive in and locate the cages and hook them up to a hydraulic lift that will pull them out of the water.

Diving Under the Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages Sunk for the Winter (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Diving Under the Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages Sunk for the Winter (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Retrieved Oyster Cage Filled with Oysters Ready for Market (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Retrieved Oyster Cage Filled with Oysters Ready for Market (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)

The oysters are then hauled on a sled towed behind a four-wheeler or, if the ice is sufficiently thick, by a truck, back to the processing and shipping plant.

The varieties of oysters on PEI are often (though not always) named for the body of water in which they are grown. The Raspberry Point Oyster Co. draws its name from a little point of land on the Homestead Trail in nearby Cavendish.  Readers from outside PEI will likely associate the Cavendish name as the setting for famed authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery’s famous Anne of Green Gables series of books. A number of years ago, Scott and Charles Linkletter, the owners of Raspberry Point’s forerunner company, The PEI Oyster Company, had a lease to fish oysters in this area so they renamed the company to the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. Today, still owned and operated by the Linkletter family, Raspberry Point Oyster Co. has six varieties of Malpeque oysters on the market:

  • Raspberry Point – Bearing the company name, this variety of 3” oysters is grown as bottom culture in leases in New London Bay. The Raspberry Point variety is the company’s most popular oyster.
  • Lucky Limes – These are 3” oysters, also bottom grown in a lease along the Homestead Trail in New London Bay. The water in this area is filled with algae and that’s what turns the oyster shells green, thus the “lime” in the name.

    Box of Lucky Lime Variety of Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
    Box of Lucky Lime Variety of Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
  • Shiny Sea – At 2½“ in size, these are considered to be the “baby brother” of the larger 3” Raspberry Point variety. These bottom cultures are also grown in New London Bay.
  • Pickle Point – These are top-culture oysters as they are grown nearer the water’s surface in floating bags in New London Bay.
  • Daisy Bay – These 3” oysters are top-culture, or surface culture, grown in North Rustico.
  • Irish Point – Considered to be cocktail size oysters, these 2½“ oysters are also surface cultures and are grown in North Rustico.

Controls are in place to ensure sustainability of the Island’s oyster industry. Only so many leases are granted by the government to avoid overfishing.  The mollusks, themselves, help to ensure their species continue to survive as they act as great filters to clean the water of toxins by filtering algae and phytoplankton from the water.

According to James, the nature of the water flow and the shape of the seed oyster will basically determine the final shape of the oyster. While James will say that the perfect oyster is very much an individual’s own taste, he says the perfect shaped oyster, in his opinion, is a rounded tear-drop shape that is 3” long by 2” wide. The perfect flavour should consist of a clean, salty taste and a sweet finish.  The meat should be a little bit, but not too, fatty because nothing should interfere with the natural salty taste.

Power says oysters are like terroir is to wine – the flavour of each variety is built on the content of the bay or stream in which the oysters are grown and each oyster will look and taste a little different from the next one.  Since the oysters are coming from the sea and the French word for sea is “mer”, perhaps the term “merroir”, as some have coined it, might be the best description! Power says true oyster connoisseurs can identify the different flavour profiles in raw oysters.  Oysters grown in waters that have more of a rock base may have a mineral-rich flavour (though none of Raspberry Point oysters have this terroir/merroir) while others grown elsewhere may have a slight vegetable taste picked up from whatever vegetation or algae may be in their water habitat.

Power also says the oyster meat and flavour change with the seasons.  In summer, the oysters are thin and salty – the bivalves are more interested in reproduction than getting fat so keeping their svelte figure is obviously their concern!  In the fall (September – October), the waters are getting colder and the oysters will start building up fat for the cold winter months.  When the water temperature gets down to 5°C, the oysters shut down and hibernate inside their hard shells, living off the fat they built up in the fall. So, if you are eating oysters that come from icy waters, they’re likely to be quite plump and perhaps just a little sweeter.  In the spring, the oysters still stay fat but, as the snow melts, it dilutes the natural salt in the water so the oysters will taste less salty.

Oysters are low in fat, high in protein, and are a good source of iron and zinc.  They are also a source of, amongst others, Vitamins B12 and C along with Thiamin, Magnesium, and Phosphorus.

PEI Oysters
PEI Oysters

Oysters are most often served raw on the half shell on a bed of ice with freshly squeezed lemon or, sometimes, with a peppery shallot mignonette.  Chef Michael Smith often serves oysters with a Bloody Mary Ice seen in the photo below.

Shucked PEI Oysters Served with Bloody Mary Ice
Shucked PEI Oysters Served with Bloody Mary Ice

Oysters are shucked using a special short, blunt knife made for this purpose. Power says he believes oysters are popular, especially eaten raw, because they are an all-natural food, not processed or transformed.  Oyster bars are very popular and an emerging trend is to pair oysters with wines, beers, and whiskey. Fresh oysters are available at most fish markets on PEI as well as the larger supermarkets. On PEI, many restaurants serve raw oysters and, at many Fall Flavours Festival events each September, oysters are a staple, like they were at the 2017 “A Taste of Rustico” event where Chef Michael Smith (in photo below) was busy shucking Raspberry Point oysters.

Chef Michael Smith Shucking Raspberry Point Oysters at "Taste of Rustico" Fall Flavours event 2017
Chef Michael Smith Shucking Raspberry Point Oysters at “Taste of Rustico” Fall Flavours event 2017
Raspberry Point Oysters at Taste of Rustico Event 2017
Raspberry Point Oysters at Taste of Rustico Event 2017

So, the next time you are slurping back one of the plump briny Prince Edward Island oysters, you’ll now know a little bit more about how the Island oysters are produced, the flavour profile of an Island oyster, and you’ll be enjoying a unique terroir (or perhaps it’s “merroir”) taste from waters in and around Prince Edward Island on Canada’s East Coast.

Plump PEI Oysters
Plump PEI Oysters

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Oyster Farming
Oyster Farming

A Taste of Tyne Valley, PEI

The month-long PEI Fall Flavours Festival, held annually each September, offers visitors the opportunity to delve into local culture in a unique and tasty way through attending culinary events at various locales across the Island. Originally started as a 10-day festival that could extend PEI’s short tourism season into September, the Festival has grown into a full month of a wide variety of culinary events for every taste.  A popular Festival with foodies, visitors travel great distances and several return each year especially for the Festival.  Now in its 10th year, the Festival puts local food at the forefront of the visitor experience and, in so doing, also builds and strengthens collaboration between food producers, chefs, restauranteurs, local communities and, more broadly, the Island tourism industry.

The PEI Fall Flavours introduced three new culinary events in 2017 – Taste of Georgetown, Taste of North Rustico, and Taste of Tyne Valley. With a view to getting visitors out in to the more rural areas of the province closer to the local food sources, visitors were drawn to experience the different regions of PEI and they also had the chance to connect more directly with food producers and local chefs.

Jeff Noye, Valley Pearl Oysters, Tyne Valley, PEI
Jeff Noye, Valley Pearl Oysters, Tyne Valley, PEI

A growing trend amongst the foodie tourist population is the interest in incorporating good local cuisine and culinary experiences into their travel adventures.  The evolution of food and drink festivals are a driving influence in the culinary tourism aspect of vacation travel. While products like PEI oysters, for example, are shipped all over the world where anyone can have access to them, those consumers will not have the full cultural experience that they can get from eating oysters at a PEI Fall Flavours event. Such events allow consumers to interact directly with the oyster grower who farms the product just up the road and who is the one actually shucking and presenting the oysters right before event attendees. And, of course, it goes without saying that the closer you taste the food to its origins, the fresher and better its taste and the more personal connection you have with the food.

For those who want to experience authentic local culture, there is no better way than to attend a culinary festival, like the PEI Fall Flavours Festival, where regional fare can be sampled and local hospitality and music enjoyed.  These three components are the essential ingredients of a true local food and culture experience of a place.

Island Blue Mussels at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Island Blue Mussels at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

This was none more evident than with the recent “Taste of Tyne Valley” culinary event.  This event was also a community-building activity for the Tyne Valley community, located about 20 minutes west of the City of Summerside.  Local food producers and the three restaurants in the heart of Tyne Valley worked collaboratively to provide event goers with an authentic food experience complemented by West Prince hospitality. When we speak of authenticity in terms of food, we are talking about a food trend that involves local fresh food that is simple, natural, and has roots and history in an area. So, when we think of the Tyne Valley and surrounding environs, in particular, we think of local foods with a long history in the area – foods such as oysters, mussels, beef, potatoes, and wild blueberries, all of which were included on the event’s menu.

Tyne Valley, PEI
Tyne Valley, PEI

Organizers report that 110 people attended the Tyne Valley event and, for the first time that I’ve attended a Fall Flavours event, I think the locals may have outnumbered the tourists! When a tablemate, a resident of Tyne Valley, was asked what the population was, she looked around then, with a smile, jokingly said “they’re all here tonight…, well, at least 80% of them”! There were certainly some off-Island visitors at the event, too, and they got to mix and mingle with the locals while enjoying some fine Island foods.

Site of "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Site of “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

The evening began with a gathering hour in a large tent where Valley Pearl Oysters served up steamed mussels and raw oysters.

Shucking Oysters at "Taste of Tyne Valley" Event 2017
Shucking Oysters at “Taste of Tyne Valley” Event 2017

The mussels were steamed just outside the tent and the oysters were shucked by the oyster growers as people passed through the line. The food just doesn’t get any fresher than that!

Damien Enman Prepares to Steam PEI Blue Mussels at "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Damien Enman Prepares to Steam PEI Blue Mussels at “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
PEI Oysters
PEI Oysters

Mussels and oysters are popular PEI foods so there was always a steady line-up for them.

Serving up Island Blue Mussels at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Serving up Island Blue Mussels at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Island Blue Mussels at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Island Blue Mussels at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

Because food and music are a common combo at PEI gatherings, local music also plays a part in virtually every Fall Flavours Festival event.  During the gathering hour in Tyne Valley, visitors were treated to music provided by local area musicians, Spencer Phillips and Ellen MacQuillan.

PEI Musicians, Spencer Phillips and Ellen MacQuillan, Entertain at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
PEI Musicians, Spencer Phillips and Ellen MacQuillan, Entertain at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

The format of this event was part roving feast and part sit-down table service meal.  The center of Tyne Valley has three restaurants, all located in close proximity to each other.  After enjoying the mussels and oysters, patrons took their appetizer “passports” and began the short stroll to the three participating restaurants – Backwoods Burger, Dillon’s, and Tyne Valley Tea and Company.

"Passport" to Appetizers at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
“Passport” to Appetizers at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

The benefit of involving three local restaurants and having event attendees visit each one to sample an appetizer is that it exposed the restaurants to visitors who, if visiting the area, might otherwise have chosen only one restaurant at which to dine. Diners could choose the order in which they visited the restaurants.

Backwoods Burger Restaurant, Tyne Valley, PEI
Backwoods Burger Restaurant, Tyne Valley, PEI
Backwoods Burger, Tyne Valley, PEI
Backwoods Burger, Tyne Valley, PEI

Backwoods Burger (which always reminds me of an English pub), pictured above,  served a slice of their delectable potato and bacon pie which was beautifully presented.

Potato and Bacon Pie from Backwoods Burger, Tyne Valley, PEI
Potato and Bacon Pie from Backwoods Burger, Tyne Valley, PEI

Layers of PEI potatoes are the main ingredient in this delectable pie.

Potato and Bacon Pie from Backwoods Burger, Tyne Valley, PEI
Potato and Bacon Pie from Backwoods Burger, Tyne Valley, PEI
Dillion's Convenience Store and Pizzaria, Tyne Valley, PEI
Dillon’s Convenience Store and Pizzaria, Tyne Valley, PEI

Dillon’s (seen in photo above), a local pizzeria, served the perennial favorite appetizer of bacon wrapped scallops which they served on a bed of greens.

Bacon-wrapped Scallops from Dillion's Pizzaria, Tyne Valley, PEI
Bacon-wrapped Scallops from Dillion’s Pizzaria, Tyne Valley, PEI

Dillon’s also served a choice of wine or punch with their appetizer.

Dillion's Pizzaria, Tyne Valley, PEI
Dillon’s Pizzaria, Tyne Valley, PEI
Dillon's Pizzaria, Tyne Valley, PEI
Dillon’s Pizzaria, Tyne Valley, PEI

The Tyne Valley Tea and Company, a small tea room that opened in 2016, served an Asian-inspired appetizer nestled in a Wonton dish.

Tyne Valley Tea and Company, Tyne Valley, PEI
Tyne Valley Tea and Company, Tyne Valley, PEI

This colorful appetizer featured carrots, garlic, and green onions with a cucumber sweet chili sauce, with many of the ingredients sourced locally from the gardens of the nearby Doctor’s Inn.

Aisan-inspired Appetizer from the Tyne Valley Tea and Company ("Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event)
Aisan-inspired Appetizer from the Tyne Valley Tea and Company (“Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event)

Once everyone had made their way back to the tent, dinner service began, family style, at the long communal tables.

At the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
At the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
At the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
At the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Party Favour - Silicon Tea Strainer (At the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event)
Party Favour – Silicon Tea Strainer (At the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event)

The main meal was prepared by guest Chef Jesse Vergen who is chef/co-owner of Saint John Alehouse and owner of Smoking Pig BBQ, both in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Jeff Noye, MC (left) introduces Guest Chef, Jesse Verden, at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Event MC Jeff Noye (left) introduces Guest Chef, Jesse Verden,(right) at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

A Top Chef Canada All Star, Chef Jesse is no stranger to culinary challenges and, as he puts it, curve ball competitions; in fact, he’ll tell you he thrives on them.  With no existing or mobile kitchen onsite from which to serve 110 meals, Chef Jesse, in his words, was “rocking it out” from the back door of the little pizzeria and convenience store next to the event location!  This is where I caught up with him putting the final touches on the main meal.

Chef Jesse Vergen at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Chef Jesse Vergen at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Chef Jesse Verden Prepares the Main Meal at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Chef Jesse Verden Prepares the Main Meal at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
At the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
At the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

Bowls of PEI rustic potato salad and heirloom tomato salad arrived at the table.

Potato Salad at "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Potato Salad at “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

 

Heirloom Tomato Salad at "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Heirloom Tomato Salad at “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

This was followed by large trays bearing the sliced brisket in the center surrounded by large clam shells filled with mushroom purée, butter-poached bar clams, and stout mayonnaise. These were broiled in the local pizzeria’s pizza oven and were, as Chef Jesse says, “a take on a classic Coquilles Saint Jacques but with a Tyne Valley twist”.

Beef Brisket
Beef Brisket

The brisket had been smoked slowly for 14 hours in a traditional barbeque pit with applewood and Chef Jesse says this long slow cooking process turned the meat into a melt-in-your mouth-like-butter texture.

Trays of Beef Brisket
Trays of Beef Brisket

Many hands make light work! Great motion and energy in the photo below!

Guest Chef, Jesse Verden, and Local Volunteers Prepare the Main Meal at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Guest Chef, Jesse Verden, and Local Volunteers Prepare the Main Meal at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

As dessert was arriving, the energetic Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys band took to the stage providing lively toe-tapping music.

Island Fiddler, Gordie MacKeeman Performing at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Island Fiddler, Gordie MacKeeman Performing at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

This award-winning band has toured extensively, nationally and internationally. Members of the band are Gordie MacKeeman, Peter Cann, Thomas Webb, and Jason Burbine.

Island Musicians Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys Band Performing at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Island Musicians Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys Band Performing at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

Dessert was prepared in the small kitchen of the Tyne Valley Tea and Company just across the road from the event location.  Served in the trendy mason jars, this tasty creation was a take on the traditional English Eton Mess dessert.

Blueberry Dessert at the "Taste of Tyne Valley" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Blueberry Dessert at the “Taste of Tyne Valley” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

The layered dessert featured Lennox Island blueberries, along with crumbled meringues and scones, all topped with Earl Grey-infused whipped cream. A small ginger cookie, shaped like a teapot, garnished the dessert.

There is no doubt this was a community-building event for the Tyne Valley area and the passion of the local people, restaurant owners, and others who participated, was evident.  Carol Rybinski, owner of the Tyne Valley Tea and Company says the PEI Fall Flavours concept was “right up our alley – locally-sourced dishes and a shared community experience”. 

…the PEI Fall Flavours concept was “right up our alley – locally-sourced dishes and a shared community experience” -Carol Rybinski 

Chef Jesse concurs, saying he was impressed with the event and community collaboration to pull it off.  He says he considers it an honour to have been asked to participate in the Tyne Valley event. One thing is certain – there was lots of fun and laughter to go along with all that fresh local food!

For the entire month of September, visitors to the PEI Fall Flavours Festival can take advantage of all that this amazing small Island on Canada’s east coast has to offer – sample locally-sourced fresh food prepared by talented chefs, listen to lively local music, mix and mingle with the locals, and discover beautiful vistas from one end of PEI to the other. If you’re a true foodie, there is no better time to visit PEI than in the month of September which is filled with dozens of different culinary events offering something for every taste.  PEI has earned a reputation for excellence in food production and is now seen as an authentic food destination. There is a reason why PEI is known as Canada’s Food Island and events like “Taste of Georgetown”, “Taste of North Rustico”, and “Taste of Tyne Valley” prove it.

To read stories about other PEI Fall Flavours events I have attended, click on the links below:

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)
Toes, Taps, & Taters (2017)
Taste of Georgetown (2017)
Taste of North Rustico – A Rustico Kitchen Party (2017)

Taste of Tyne Valley

Taste of Tyne Valley

A Taste of Georgetown, PEI

Each year, in September, Prince Edward Island celebrates its many fine local foods through a month-long culinary festival known as the PEI Fall Flavours Festival. The festival brings the hottest names in Canadian gastronomy to be guest hosts at various gourmand events held in iconic Island locations.

The celebrity chefs participate in the menu design and meal preparation that feature several of PEI’s local foods that come from the Island’s red fertile soil and rich marine waters that continue to make PEI a world-renowned food destination.   Each September, more and more foodie tourists make PEI their vacation destination so they can explore and enjoy our food culture and see for themselves where our food comes from by visiting farming communities and fishing villages across our picturesque Island.

Chefs Michael Smith (l) and Paul Rogalski (r) Shuck Oysters at "Taste of Georgetown" Event
Chefs Michael Smith (l) and Paul Rogalski (r) Shuck Oysters at “Taste of Georgetown” Event

In early September 2017, Chefs Michael Smith (of Fireworks Restaurant in PEI) and Paul Rogalski (of Calgary’s Rouge Restaurant) teamed up to celebrate the authentic food culture and heritage of Georgetown, PEI, a small, rural town in the eastern part of the Island, about 40 minutes from the capital city of Charlottetown. In what I’d class as an intimate evening of dining in the town’s theatre, the King’s Playhouse, the culinary duo carefully planned a five-course dinner that showcased local chefs and restaurateurs and, of course, fine meat, seafood, and produce, local to the area. This was “A Taste of Georgetown”.

King's Playhouse, Georgetown, PEI
King’s Playhouse, Georgetown, PEI

Upon arrival at the King’s Playhouse, patrons were offered a complimentary glass of Rossignol wine. Rossignol Winery is PEI’s oldest winery and is located in Little Sands, near Murray River.

Serving Rossignol Wine
Serving Rossignol Wine

The option also existed to sample locally-brewed seasonal blueberry ale from Upstreet Craft Brewing in Charlottetown.

Sampling Blueberry Ale from Upstreet Brewing Company
Sampling Blueberry Ale from Upstreet Brewing Company

And then…..the eating commenced with several appetizer stations both inside the theatre and in a tent adjacent to the Playhouse.

Chef, Amil Zavo, serving up Snow Crab Roulade
Chef, Amil Zavo, serving up Snow Crab Roulade

The Kings Playhouse Chef, Amil Zavo, served up Snow Crab Roulade stuffed with smoked mussels, roasted apples and cranberries, and garnished with cured herring roe, all served on a fennel crostini.

Snow Crab Roulade
Snow Crab Roulade

As patrons sipped on their beverage of choice and sampled the Snow Crab Roulade, they stopped to watch local artist, Margaret Wailes, create a painting of a local rural scene.  One lucky patron was the winner of the painting and went home with a lovely momento of the evening.

Artist, Margaret Wailes, create a painting of a local rural scene at "Taste of Georgetown" Event
Artist, Margaret Wailes, create a painting of a local rural scene at “Taste of Georgetown” Event

To the music of local musician, Taylor Johnson, folks made their way to the tent in the AA MacDonald Memorial Gardens just outside the King’s Playhouse.

PEI Musician, Taylor Johnson, Entertains Patrons at "Taste of Georgetown" Event
PEI Musician, Taylor Johnson, Entertains Patrons at “Taste of Georgetown” Event
AA MacDonald Memorial Gardens, Georgetown, PEI
AA MacDonald Memorial Gardens, Georgetown, PEI
Tent at Kings Playhouse for "A Taste of Georgetown" Culinary Event
Tent at Kings Playhouse for “A Taste of Georgetown” Culinary Event

Here, there were several activities underway that included demonstrations of lobster trap rigging and eel pot mending.  It was also fun to pick out a starfish collection to take home from Tranquility Cove Adventures.

Starfish
Starfish
PEI guitarist and singer, Barry O’Brien, performs at "Taste of Georgetown" Event
PEI guitarist and singer, Barry O’Brien, performs at “Taste of Georgetown” Event

Local guitarist and singer, Barry O’Brien, provided musical accompaniment while patrons checked out the shucking skills of Chef Michael Smith and Chef Paul Rogalski who were busy shucking “Brudenell Bully” oysters harvested from the waters in the Georgetown area.

Chefs Michael Smith and Paul Rogalski Shucking Oysters at "Taste of Georgetown" Event, PEI
Chefs Michael Smith and Paul Rogalski Shucking Oysters at “Taste of Georgetown” Event, PEI

 

Brudenell Bully Oysters from Georgetown, PEI
Brudenell Bully Oysters from Georgetown, PEI
Chef Paul Rogalski shucks Brudenell Bully Oysters at Taste of Georgetown Event
Chef Paul Rogalski shucks Brudenell Bully Oysters at Taste of Georgetown Event
Brudenell Bully Oysters from Georgetown, PEI
Brudenell Bully Oysters from Georgetown, PEI
Brudenell Bully Oysters Served with Frozen Bloody Mary
Brudenell Bully Oysters Served with Frozen Bloody Mary

The chefs kept their assistants on the hop making the tacos over an open fire and stuffing the mini tacos with the eel filling.

Eel Tacos
Eel Tacos
Making Tacos at "Taste of Georgetown" event
Making Tacos at “Taste of Georgetown” event

 

Making Eel Tacos at "Taste of Georgetown" event
Making Eel Tacos at “Taste of Georgetown” event

 

Eel Tacos
Eel Tacos

Tranquility Cove Adventures served fresh shucked bar clam hinges.

Clam Hinges
Clam Hinges

Those are some mighty big clams!

Clams
Clams

The MC for the dinner was Haley Zavo, Executive Director of the King’s Playhouse.

Taste of Georgetown 2017 Menu
Taste of Georgetown 2017 Menu

The five-course dinner was a plated meal served at attractively set tables.

Taste of Georgetown Event 2017
Taste of Georgetown Event 2017
Taste of Georgetown Event 2017
Taste of Georgetown Event 2017

To stimulate the appetite, Eden’s Gate Restaurant prepared the amuse-bouche of a seared scallop with lime aioli on micro greens.

Amuse-bouche: Seared scallop with lime aioli
Amuse-bouche: Seared scallop with lime aioli

This was followed by two starters, the first being a chunky home-made seafood chowder and biscuit from the Georgetown Historic Inn, just a stone’s throw from the Kings Playhouse.

Seafood Chowder
Seafood Chowder

The second starter was a salad with greens, smoked Island trout, diced oranges, almonds, pickled red capers, and goat cheese with a citrus poppy seed dressing, prepared by Eden’s Gate Restaurant.

Salad with Smoked Island Trout
Salad with Smoked Island Trout

The main course, inspired and prepared by guest chef, Paul Rogalski, was chargrilled beef petite filet served with baby PEI potatoes and cauliflower sauce.

Chargrilled beef petite filet served with baby PEI potatoes and cauliflower sauce
Chargrilled beef petite filet served with baby PEI potatoes and cauliflower sauce

The Georgetown Historic Inn and Eden’s Gate Restaurant teamed up to prepare the evening’s dessert finale – PEI blueberry cobbler served with vanilla ice cream and an apple rosette in a puff pastry drizzled with PEI Strait Rum and butter sauce.

Blueberry Cobbler
Blueberry Cobbler

Because this was a small dinner for about 80, it offered more direct interaction between patrons and both the celebrity chefs and local chefs who were involved with the meal preparation. Each of the participating chefs/restaurateurs was invited to explain the dish he or she was preparing and from where the ingredients were locally sourced.

Chef from Eden's Gate explains ingredients in salad
Chef from Eden’s Gate explains ingredients in salad

There were lots of opportunities to pose questions of the guest chefs, both of whom were very obliging in their responses.  There was certainly no problem to see how passionate Chef Michael and Chef Paul are about their chosen vocation and of how important it is for them to source fresh, quality ingredients from local food producers, fishers, and farmers.

"Treble with Girls" quartet entertaining at "Taste of Georgetown" Event 2017
“Treble with Girls” quartet entertaining at “Taste of Georgetown” Event 2017

“Treble with Girls”, a quartet of local talented musicians (left to right: Jolee Patkai, Maxine MacLennan, Sheila MacKenzie, and Norman Stewart) provided lively toe-tapping music throughout the evening, alternating with the accomplished pianist, Max Keenlyside, on piano.

Pianist Max Keenlyside entertains at "Taste of Georgetown" event 2017
Pianist Max Keenlyside entertains at “Taste of Georgetown” event 2017

“Taste of Georgetown” was one of three new Fall Flavours Festival culinary events introduced in 2017 (the other two are Taste of Tyne Valley and Taste of North Rustico – Rustico Kitchen Party).  The intent is that the events draw people to smaller local communities across the Island where they can discover all that makes PEI unique – the food, producers, landscapes, and the local people, particularly those involved in the food and music scene.

Because these culinary events tend to draw people who are already passionate about food, the PEI Fall Flavours Festival events are prime opportunities for the many local food and beverage producers and chefs to showcase their products, culinary skills, talents, and passion for authentic regional food to foodies.  Of course, it’s also a great way to introduce visitors to PEI to the vast spectrum of food and beverages available on the Island.

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)
Toes, Taps, & Taters (2017)

Local foods starred in the 2017 Taste of Georgetown culinary event, part of the PEI Fall Flavors Festival