Culinary tourism is a steadily growing part of the whole worldwide tourism industry. This has evolved because today’s foodie tourists want to learn more about their chosen vacation destination through experiencing the local food, drink, and culture. Culinary Festivals are quite common in many regions around the world and are a great way for tourists to experience the local cuisine that reflects the authenticity of a destination. Tourists who seek culinary experiences and adventures are typically looking for food that is simple and rooted with a history in the local area as opposed to gourmet fare that may, or may not, reflect a particular geographic area.
Each year, in September, PEI celebrates its authentic local foods by hosting the PEI Fall Flavours Festival. In 2017, the Festival celebrated 10 years of great gastronomic events. What started as a short 10-day festival to extend the Island tourism shoulder season has now morphed into a full month of culinary events, big and small, that feature PEI’s finest foods….and we certainly are privileged to enjoy an abundance of them. The Festival lures some of Canada’s best chefs and local culinary stars and these, along with the great PEI food, music, and hospitality, draw thousands of visitors to the Island each September. Many take in three or four of the Fall Flavours culinary events and several return year after year, specifically planning their vacations around the Festival.
In 2017, the Festival introduced three new events – Taste of Georgetown, Taste of Tyne Valley, and Taste of North Rustico. The idea behind these events is to get visitors out in to some of the smaller Island communities, closer to where our foods are grown, raised, fished, or produced so they can explore that region’s culture, cuisine, and heritage. It’s also a way to engage local chefs, restaurateurs, and food producers by giving them the opportunity to showcase their products to foodies who are passionate about food and who are interested in learning more about direct food sources and methods of preparation and serving. Many of today’s foodies are looking for an experience to go along with the food. Each of these three new events provided that experience that combined a glimpse into our local food and music cultural scene. These are the kinds of events that make for great travel memories. Are you ready to have a “Taste of North Rustico” and attend a Rustico Kitchen Party?
North Rustico, a fishing town on PEI’s north shore, is a well-known tourist destination during the summer months when the population swells.
With its beautiful sandy beach, it has long been a mecca for sunbathers as well as for artists and photographers.
An abundance of picture-perfect scenes abound everywhere in and around the town and it’s always fascinating to watch the fishers heading out to sea and returning with the day’s catch.
And, after that perfect day of enjoying the sea, sand, and many fine attractions in the area, no doubt appetite is calling. There are a number of seasonal restaurants that operate in North Rustico and which have earned the town a deserved reputation for fine local authentic food, some of which would have been fished earlier in the day and brought to shore by one of the many local fishing boats. North Rustico has long been known, both by Islanders and tourists alike, as a good place to get a great meal. Therefore, it was a very fitting location to host a PEI Fall Flavours culinary event.
With the scenic backdrop of the fishing boats in North Rustico Harbour, the “Taste of North Rustico” event offered tastings from several local restaurants and nearby local food producers and it served up a real old-fashioned kitchen style party complete with local music. A “Taste of North Rustico” proved to be a celebration of the rich culture, authentic food, and heritage of the scenic and bountiful north shore of PEI.
A large tent was erected in a parking lot just beside the harbour and as folks made their way to the tent, their appetites were tantalized by the scent of Island beef and pork sausages cooking over an open fire.
Inside the tent, a stage was set up surrounded by numerous round tables.
At each place setting, a set of wooden spoons was included as a take-home memento of the evening. These were also put to good use later in the evening to keep time to the lively music.
Designed as a “roving feast”, local chefs, restaurateurs, and food producers had their “grazing” stations set up around the perimeter of the tent where they were serving up delectable food tastings. The 125 patrons who attended were free to choose the order in which they wished to visit the various stations to sample the food options.
There was certainly passion and pride in place displayed by the town of North Rustico as their mayor, Anne Kirk, greeted patrons at the entrance to the tent. She, herself, is quite entertaining and she had a lot of fun on stage with Chef Michael Smith, presenting him with bottles of her homemade pickles and beets and coaxing him to sample them to see if they’d be safe to serve to her family and friends! I later caught her capably playing the wooden spoons to the rhythm of the music.
This event was very well organized and I did not experience any long line-up at any of the grazing stations.
My first stop was at the Raspberry Point Oyster station where Chef Michael Smith was busy shucking oysters.
No matter how hard he coaxed (he tried at the Taste of Georgetown event, too), I just could not slurp a raw oyster! For this, he denounced me for not being a “good Island girl” and, of course, I unwittingly made things worse by asking the unthinkable…”do you ever cook the oysters?” Let’s just say we need to be thankful Chef Michael didn’t have a coronary on the spot! I got the evil eye look and was quickly informed that one only cooks inferior quality oysters, never PEI oysters!
But, on the upside, I gave him a good grade on his oyster shucking skills! He claims he’s shucked a few……a few thousand oysters that is!
I then made my way over to the station of PEI Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant where they were serving up bowls of piping hot seafood chowder made with scallops, haddock, shrimp, and lobster in a traditional rue base.
Perhaps you have heard of Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant – they are famous for their traditional PEI lobster supper that also boasts a 60’ long salad bar. This is a very popular destination for many visitors to our Island.
I also had to try one of the yummy fish tacos from their Pier 15 restaurant. Made with crispy haddock bits wrapped in corn tortillas and topped with pico de gallo, jalapeno lime slaw, and cilantro sour cream, these were a hot ticket item!
My next stop was at the Blue Mussel Café’s station where they were plating up their house-made charcuterie plates.
This was a very bountiful plate featuring roasted beet salmon gravlax, house smoked mackerel, local cheeses, apple blueberry chutney, pickled harvest vegetables, and a micro green salad.
The Blue Mussel Café is a busy and popular seasonal restaurant located near the North Rustico lighthouse and close to the Rustico beach.
From there, I made my way to the Yellow House’s station. The Yellow House is a new restaurant in North Rustico, located right by the harbour. This restaurant has drawn great reviews.
You can see why it has quickly become a popular eating spot when you check out their mussel rolls – yes, those are tasty little PEI blue mussels with fennel, orange zest, and dill in a creamy sauce on one of the Yellow House’s signature house rolls.
They also served mini Acadian meat pies and smoked salmon bubble and squeak with PEI quail eggs but I wasn’t quick enough to get photos!
Coming from a little distance away in Westmoreland, near Crapaud, the PEI Charcuterie station was offering all kinds of their house-made charcuterie.
The folks from Glasgow Glen Farm, home of fine Island-made Gouda cheese, served up a tasty potato corn soup in small mason jars accompanied by buttermilk biscuits.
While folks were enjoying the roving feast of appetizers, North Rustico’s own Olivia Blacquiere provided musical entertainment.
The main meats consisted of a wood-fired mixed grill featuring PEI beef and Heritage Breed Berkshire pork sausage served with potato bannock.
This was overseen by the event’s guest chefs Connie DeSousa (a Top Chef Canada finalist) and John Jackson, co-owners of the Charcut Roast House in Calgary, Alberta.
It took a good trailer of wood to get the grillin’ done!
Upstreet Craft Brewing representatives were on hand serving up some of their famous microbrewed beer as well as their brand new line of soda pop introduced in 2017 – they currently have three flavours available – Strawberry Rhubarb Basil, Apple Ginger Elderflower, and Malt Spice Cola.
And, for anyone with room left for dessert, the Blue Mussel Café delighted palates with chocolate bourbon mascarpone tartlets while the Yellow House served mini sugar pies.
Chef interaction is a big part of these types of culinary events. Unlike going to a typical restaurant where patrons would rarely, if ever, see the chef who prepared their meal, these culinary events are built around connection and direct communication with the chefs. Not only could patrons chat with the chefs at the various grazing stations but, during the evening, Chef Michael Smith hosted an engaging question and answer period with guest chefs Connie DeSouza and John Jackson.
Folks were invited to ask them questions and some fun was had when they were asked to tell what their most embarrassing moments were as chefs and which beef they thought was best – PEI’s or Alberta’s. For the record, they capably and diplomatically handled that question very well!
A true North Rustico Kitchen Party would not be complete without some great local music. Brendon Peters and friends provided lively tunes mixed in with some north shore humour. Toes were tapping, hands were clapping, and those wooden spoons were put to good use.
The carefully designed and executed menu for this event reflected authentic foods local to the North Rustico and surrounding areas and it capably achieved what it intended – it gave visitors a “Taste of North Rustico” foods, culture, and heritage.
The PEI Fall Flavours Festival has grown to be one of PEI’s most anticipated events that offer visitors the opportunity to discover and experience the vast spectrum of food produced on PEI as the culinary events take them right in to the heart of food source locales, like North Rustico.
As I mentioned earlier, some visitors return each year especially to attend several PEI Fall Flavours events. In fact, four of my tablemates at this event came from Regina, SK, and two of them have come to PEI for the past 10 years that Fall Flavours has existed. Something I have observed this year from attending several Fall Flavours events and talking with visitors is the far distance that people travel specifically for this Festival and how many of the events they attend, and how long they vacation on the Island as a result of the Festival. PEI has now earned its reputation as a fine authentic food destination that offers world class culinary experiences and events.
So, if you’re looking for taste bud tempting travel that will allow you to experience wonderful regional food specialities, musical culture, and a chance to explore our special little corner of the world, September is a great time to visit PEI. You’ll find endless opportunities to experience authentic local culture by indulging in our many fine foods and drinks, seeing spectacular scenery, meeting friendly and hospitable Islanders, and discovering talented local musicians.
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)
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)