Please Note: Due to low lighting conditions at this event venue, it was very difficult to capture quality photos for this posting.
Several of the “signature” events of PEI’s Fall Flavours Festival focus on certain foods. The recent “Beef and Blues” event in Summerside was all about Island beef.
Food Network’s Corbin Tomaszeski was the celebrity guest chef who hosted the evening. You may recognize him from Food Network’s shows “Dinner Party Wars“, “Restaurant Makeover” and “Restaurant Takeover“. On this night, however, Chef Corbin was found “working the crowd” in the lobby of Credit Union Place before the event venue was open.
The ice surface of Credit Union Place was transformed into a blues-themed venue for the sold-out event.
The evening began with Joe MacMillan providing blues music to set the tone for the evening.
“Beef and Blues” was structured differently from other signature events of the Fall Flavours Festival that I have attended which, typically, have chefs from the Culinary Institute of Canada or a particular restaurant preparing the food. In the case of “Beef and Blues”, 12 Island restaurants each had stations at which they featured a dish prepared with Island Beef. Island restaurants participating were: Island Stone Pub, Gentleman Jim’s, Sims Corner Steakhouse & Oyster Bar, Rodd Mill River Resort, The Landing, The Catch, Anson’s Restaurant & Bar, Brother’s 2, Five Eleven West, The Big Orange Lunchbox, the Lobster House Restaurant & Oyster Bar, and Pendergast’s PEI Food. In addition, three restaurants or local food producers provided desserts: Sweet Things, Samuel’s Coffee House, and Five Eleven West.
Here’s a small sampling of some of the featured dishes.
The Brother’s 2 Restaurant in Summerside featured the hushpuppy and meatball skewer.
This buttermilk chicken fried steak with tomato and corn salsa came from Anson’s Restaurant & Bar in Summerside.
Guests were free to circulate, in any order they wished, amongst the stations to sample their offerings. At each placesetting at the tables, was a “Passport to Taste”.
Guests carried their “passport” as they visited the stations and checked off each sample they tried. At the end of the evening, guests could drop their “passports” into a ballot box for a draw for a three-course dinner prepared by PEI’s Chef Illona Daniel.
The Big Orange Lunchbox from Charlottetown featured dry roast beef ribs with waffle chips and marshmallow dip (yes, marshmallow dip!)
Events such as these put consumers in direct touch with local chefs whom they would probably not see at a restaurant.
No event would be complete without something for the sweet tooth! Christine Gallant from Sweet Treats in Summerside offered these delectable peach cobbler tartlets.
The table from Samuel’s Coffee House in Summerside was also a busy spot as the whoppie pies proved to be a popular item.
This event offered the opportunity for local chefs to be extra creative with Island beef and gave patrons a good sampling of the many delicious ways in which Island beef can be prepared.
While the heavens opened and poured rain on Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, on Saturday, September 29th, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm that was evident at “Savour Victoria” or the great local food that diners enjoyed throughout the evening. As Richard LaGrange of the Orient Hotel says, “Victoria hospitality really can make up for a little rain” (well, okay, it really was a LOT of rain!).
This was the last signature event of “Fall Flavours”, PEI’s annual Culinary Festival. The small seaside village of Victoria on the Island’s south shore proved to be an ideal venue for the event. Pam Beck, Tourism Development Manager for Central Coastal Tourism Partnership, says Victoria was chosen because of its special qualities and quaintness. In the summer, Victoria swells with tourists who leisurely stroll around the tiny village of less than 200 year-round inhabitants, visiting local shops and restaurants and watching the lobster fishing boats unloading their day’s catch. Pam says organizers wanted to make the event “a celebration of Victoria, our Island, and all its beauty and bounty”. I’d say mission accomplished on that front!
The village is small and neatly laid out in a square shape. Everything is within easy walking distance and that is a good thing given the inclement weather and the fact that there were five venues for diners to visit during the evening – four for appetizers and drinks and one for dinner. Victoria does not have any really large restaurants and the ones it does have only operate seasonally. Some of the Fall Flavours events elsewhere on the Island have used big tents on location but organizers of “Savour Victoria” devised a plan that would use and promote establishments that already exist so that, when people come back to Victoria in the future, the venues will still be there for them to return to.
“Savour Victoria” was produced by Central Coastal Tourism Partnership, a new (2011) organization dedicated to promoting tourism development in the central part of the Island. Because “Savour Victoria” was classed as a signature event, it meant a celebrity chef was part of the activities. Bob Blumer, cookbook author (several times over) and creator and host of his own TV shows on the Food Network “Glutton for Punishment”, “Surreal Gourmet”, and “World’s Weirdest Restaurants”, spent the weekend in Victoria overseeing and participating in the Savour Victoria event. Bob was actively engaged in the preparations for the dinner which featured as much locally produced food as possible and was presented in unique and creative ways that Bob is known for.
Here is how the evening worked. Everyone first checked in at the Victoria Playhouse where they picked up a gift bag that contained an engraved “Savour Victoria” souvenir wine glass and a map of the Village. From there, people headed out, donned in raincoats and carrying umbrellas, to the different venues that were serving appetizers and pre-dinner drinks.
Four venues opened for the “Wandering Appetizers with Wine & Beer Tastings” portion of the evening which began at 6:00pm. These included Coach House Antiques, By-The-Sea Kayaking, Red Sand Jewelry, and Island Chocolates.
Four local eating establishments then opened to serve a sit-down dinner at 7:30pm. These were the Victoria Village Inn, Landmark Café, Lobster Barn Pub & Eatery, and the Orient Hotel. When diners purchased their ticket, they selected which of the four venues they wished to go to for the sit-down dinner.
Each of the restaurants served exactly the same meal. Local chefs from the restaurants prepared the meal and were assisted by chef support from the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI. The featured wines of the evening were all local and came from nearby Matos Winery in St. Catherine’s, PEI.Just take a look at this great menu that was collaboratively chosen by the local chefs and Bob Blumer:
Wandering Appetizers with Wine & Beer Tastings
Coach House Antiques: Smoked Ham from Island Taylored Meats & COWS Creamery Cheese. PEI Brewing Company Beer Tastings.
By-the-sea Kayaking: Raspberry Point Oysters. Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.
Red Sand Jewelry: Cajun-seared Atlantic Scallops, Carmelized Onions & Cream Cheese on Baguette Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.
Island Chocolates: Roasted sweet peppers on chocolate crostini with goat cheese and a dusting of cocoa . Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.
Seated Dining Menu
Course 1: Kim Dormaar’s Medallion Smoked Salmon Course 2 – Bob Blumer’s Fire-roasted Corn Chowder with sweet corn and garlic from nearby fields, local cream, and Island Taylored Meats double-smoked bacon. Fresh-baked bread. Matos Vineyards wine pairing.
Course 3 – Bob Blumer’s Lobster-Filled Cupcake topped with creamy, buttery superior organic potatoes, seasoned with fresh local herbs and served with a medley of greens from Just a Little Farm on the Appin Rd, and dressed with balsamic and black truffle oil vinaigrette. Matos Vineyard wine pairing.
Course 4 – Panna cotta made with white and dark chocolate from Island Chocolates, served with an almond lace cookie. Matos Vineyard wine pairing.
After sampling the appetizers, it was off to the venue of choice for the sit-down dinner. I dined at the Orient Hotel. The Hotel does not operate a restaurant but does open a tea room in the summer months. In fact, the Orient Hotel had closed its tearoom doors for the season and re-opened especially for this event. Just look how elegantly this cozy dining room was dressed!
Throughout the evening, Bob circulated amongst the venues, chatting with patrons, and signing copies of his cookbook. He says he hasn’t been on the Island since a memorable bike trip in his teens so he jumped at the opportunity to come back. Says Bob, “During my too-short stay, I fell in love with Victoria-by-the-Sea, and with all of the incredible/eccentric/gregarious people who live there. Dinner was a real community effort (with some imported talent from Charlottetown) – and the community really rocked it.” Asked what the most memorable thing is that he will take away from his Island experience, Bob tells me, “the camaraderie, the lobster and, of course, the incredible beauty of the land.” Great endorsement, Bob!
Pam Beck says organizers aimed for a reasonably-priced event ($85/pp) for sampling four appetizers, drinks, a four-course sit-down dinner, and wine. The event was sold out – all 150 tickets — and Pam says it was about 50/50 split between Islanders and tourists.
This was a very enjoyable evening and it really makes me appreciate the wonderful foods we produce right here on PEI. I asked Richard LaGrange what, from the perspective of a host restaurant, he thought made the event so successful – it was, after all, a huge undertaking to carry out this kind of event using eight small venues, none of which have large kitchens. Richard says, in his view, the event’s success was due to the team effort that went into it, the entire community coming together, and the attitude and professionalism shown by members of the Culinary Institute of Canada. Richard says the most memorable aspect of the “Savour Victoria” experience for him was watching the chefs and the other food staff working together so seamlessly and guiding the rest toward a common goal.
I think this event may be a catalyst for Victoria to consider hosting similar events in the future. They proved they can do it! Richard LaGrange sums it up best when he says: I would hope that the Islanders who attended and who hadn’t been to our village for a while will have been reminded of all the reasons people flock to Victoria, and that those who were visiting us for the first time had their appetites whetted and will be back for seconds.” Hmmmm, “seconds” are good – yes, I’ll have another one of those yummy, savory lobster cupcakes, please!
There is nothing quite like the scent of newly picked strawberries straight from the field! It’s a hallmark of Summer, particularly in climates with short growing seasons such as that on PEI. Some years, we are lucky to get a couple of weeks out of the “strawberry season” but, this year, weather conditions have permitted it to be extended to about a month.
I remember when I was growing up, the early morning take-offs to the nearby U-pick berry field so we would be in the line-up for its 6:00am opening for fear of not being in time to get the best “pickings” of berries. Out would come the big, huge plastic bowls, hats, and bug spray and off to the field we’d go to get berries for eating, for jamming and, of course, “to put away” which meant crushing and freezing them for uses throughout the year. There was no such thing as imported strawberries in the Winter from other countries as there is today….although I’ll argue those don’t have the flavour our local ones do! Indeed, there would always be the “reviews” as to the quality of the berries – “they were so large, they had no flavour”, “they were so small, they were “poor” this year and not worth picking”, or “they had too hard a core in the center” – and, of course, the weather was never quite right for their growing no matter the conditions! It seemed there was no “perfect” berry! Yet, people picked pounds and pounds and buckets of them every year. Going to the berry field was somewhat of a social event because that’s where everybody in nearby communities congregated in early July to get those berries!
I don’t freeze a lot of berries and take up freezer space with them but I do purée some for specific recipes I know I am likely to make throughout the year. I freeze them in recipe-specific proportions and label them with the recipe name. I like to make strawberry jam – sometimes I think more for the wonderful scent in the kitchen when it is cooking than for the need to have several bottles of jam available – although that’s a nice side benefit! When I make my jams, I use smaller bottles – i.e., the 1-cup and ½-cup sizes. These are ideal sizes for sharing and gift-giving and, let’s face it, who minds getting a treat of homemade jam. Even if you make your own, isn’t it always nice to taste another cook’s jam?
I like strawberry jam on toast, scones, as a dollop on warm custard and, yes, even in my dark fruitcake that I make in the Fall. But, one of the most marvelous ways to enjoy strawberry jam is on fresh homemade biscuits still warm from the oven. For some reason, the flavour of strawberry jam always seems more true when the jam is served on a plain tea biscuit along with a nice cup of freshly brewed tea. Perhaps this is why, of all the varieties of jams available, strawberry is typically the quintessential variety found on traditional afternoon tea tables.
The recipe I used to make strawberry jam this year comes from Anna Olson of the food network. This recipe does not make a large batch of jam – it yields approximately 6 cups. It is a fairly sweet jam and I think the amount of sugar could be reduced by ½ cup to 3½ cups (instead of 4 cups the recipe calls for). However, degree of jam sweetness is one of personal preference and much depends on the variety of strawberries being used and how much natural sugar the berries already contain. This is not a super-thick jam and it does not use pectin. I found I had to boil it longer than the recipe directions said. In fact, I boiled it near an hour to get it thick enough for my liking. The flavour is really good and authentic. One thing I do is use a potato masher to crush up some, but not all, of the berries because I like some chunks of berries in my jam but not so many that it makes it difficult to spread.
Bottles of PEI Strawberry Jam
One of my favourite pastimes is to relax and enjoy an afternoon tea. No better way than with a cuppa, fresh tea biscuits, and newly made strawberry jam. It’s a great way to enjoy the fruits of jam-making labour!
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