On a beautiful, warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in September, I went to the 2nd Annual Great Island Grilled Cheese Challenge event on the grounds of the COWS CREAMERY in North River, PEI. This was a signature event of the annual Fall Flavours Festival that has been happening across PEI this entire month.
A large white tent was erected and this gigantic Holstein kept guard outside the sold-out event (350 tickets available) which was held to celebrate great Canadian cheeses.
Chefs from some of the Island’s restaurants competed to see who would take home the top prize of $2000 and bragging rights for having created the best grilled cheese sandwich on PEI. The three judges for the event were: Phil Belanger from Dairy Farmers of Canada, Celebrity Chef Massimo Capra, and Myles MacKinnon from Hot105.5.
Once the judging was completed, ticket holders entered the tent and the sampling began.
Each of the competitors had to prepare 400-500 samples of his/her grilled cheese sandwich for ticket holders to sample. Trust me, these were not your average ‘cheese slice between two slices of bread’ kind of grilled cheese sandwiches! These were gourmet fare. Some included lobster, others had smoked oysters while others had pears in the sandwich.
Many kinds of different breads were used including potato bread, rosemary focaccia, and raisin bread.
And the cheeses! Well, of course, that’s what makes a great grilled cheese sandwich!
The Maritime Provinces have some mighty fine cheese makers and several were on hand with samples as well – COWS CREAMERY, ADL, Cheeselady’s Gouda, and Jolly Farmers.
There were many different methods used to grill the sandwiches as each chef brought his or her own unique style to the challenge.
Our three PEI wineries — Rossignol, Matos, and Newman — had booths set up with samples of their fine wines and the PEI Brewing Co. provided beer samples.
This being a signature event of Fall Flavours, a celebrity chef was part of the event. Chef Massimo Capra joined the Sunday afternoon festivities. Chef Massimo is currently one of the chef-hosts on Food Network Canada’s “Restaurant Takeover”. The “3 chefs – The Kitchen Men” cookbook he authored with Michael Bonacini and Jason Parsons was also for sale at the Indigo booth inside the event tent and Chef Massimo autographed numerous copies of the popular book throughout the afternoon.
Chef Massimo then demonstrated how he makes his grilled cheese sandwich using smoked oysters, shredded COWS CREAMERY extra old cheddar, green tomato relish, potato chips, all between sour-dough bread slices and topped with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Throughout the afternoon, the Dairy Farmers of Canada presented 30-minute “All You Need is Cheese” seminars showcasing award-winning cheeses from the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. Ticket holders could also take a free tour of the COWS CREAMERY where their delectable ice cream and cheeses are made. Ticket holders received 50% off COWS ice cream and 50% off admission to “That Fun Place” for the afternoon. The kids enjoyed this because it included a bouncy house and crafts, lots to keep them entertained after they sampled yummy grilled cheese sandwiches.
Lively, toe-tapping musical entertainment for the afternoon was provided by the Avonlea Showband (Mike Pendergast on accordion and vocals; Leon Gallant on guitar, fiddle, and vocals; Remi Arsenault, stand-up bass, acoustic guitar, and background vocals; and Brendon Peters on percussion and spoons).
This was a wonderful afternoon event. It was great fun watching the chefs prepare the grilled cheese sandwiches onsite. Jennifer Caseley, event manager, says “The event is owned by the PEI Association of Chefs and Cooks and was created to promote regional/Canadian cheese makers, Island Dairy Products, to educate about the dairy industry, highlight the Canadian cheese processors through the Grilled Cheese Challenge, increase public awareness of regional cheeses, and support cheese makers in their search for excellence and in the development of new products.”
Tickets for the event were $18. + tax (CDN$) for adults and $5. for children.
So, whose grilled cheese sandwich took top prize this year? That went to Chef Dwayne MacLeod from the Gahan House.
Chef Andrew Smith from Red Shores placed second (yes, this was the entry that had Island lobster in the sandwich).
And, Chef Jane Crawford from the Redwater Rustic Grill was the third place winner as well as the People’s Choice winner.
Now, here is a close-up look at this year’s entries:
Is your mouth watering yet?
Each entry was unique in its own way as chefs brought their creativity to the sandwich filling and bread used.
Look how the red and green dress this club sandwich!
Pickled cucumbers garnish this rustic grilled cheese sandwich.
I love the PEI red rock used for presentation of this entry!
So many different breads used to create these yummy sandwiches.
An artist’s palate is what this visually-attractive entry reminds me of!
Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.
Be sure to visit my new Facebook page atMy Island Bistro Kitchen. You may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro and on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”.
For the third consecutive year, April has represented Burger Love on Prince Edward Island. Yes, that’s right, love of beef burgers! This year, 31 restaurants across the Island paid a $600 entry fee to cover advertising and promotion costs to participate in the month-long celebration of Island beef. PEI Burger Love has certainly created a hype and brought patrons to a number of Island restaurants to sample the array of gourmet beef burgers that chefs have created specially for the event. Make no mistake about it, these are not your average hamburgers. These are gourmet burgers that require a hefty appetite to do them justice.
Partnerships Forged to Support Initiative
PEI Burger Love, created by Fresh Media, is carried out in partnership with Prince Edward Island Cattle Producers, PEI Department of Agriculture and Forestry, PEI Flavours, PEI Potato Board, and the PEI Restaurant Association. The formation of this collaborative group has brought heightened awareness to PEI’s beef industry.
PEI Burger Love Grows in Popularity
In its inaugural year in 2011, a total of 14 Island restaurants participated with 5500 burgers being served in the month of April. Last year, 22 restaurants signed on and, collectively, sold over 16,000 burgers in just one month. I suspect, by the time, the event ends on April 30th, the number of beef burgers consumed on PEI in the month of April, 2013, will have surpassed 2012 figures.
For the month of April, one would be hard-pressed to go anywhere on the Island without hearing some talk about PEI Burger Love. In workplaces, on the street, and just about anywhere, one could hear Islanders enthusiastically talking about and describing the burgers they had already tried and the ones still on their list. Social media has been used extensively in this awareness campaign and burgers have suddenly become the hottest and most photographed subjects around! Servers would bring burgers to the tables and, all of a sudden, cameras and cell phones appeared and started clicking! Photographs of burgers have been everywhere, including on twitter and on Facebook. This year, for the first time, PEI Burger Love engaged nine individuals, one of whom was me, to use blogging as a platform to further advertise the Burger Love campaign.
Overall, I believe Islanders have embraced this campaign and have had a lot of fun with it. It has not been uncommon throughout the month to see groups of as many as 20 heading to the local restaurants at any day at noon to try out the burgers. Even local businesses got in on the action. Staff of Century 21 Colonial Realty in Charlottetown, for example, select one restaurant a week, call ahead with their burger order, and then their entire team of real estate agents show up en masse with a video camera in tow. Joel Ives says they have been doing this since Burger Love began and find it’s a fun activity for their team while supporting local at the same time. Says Joel, “Our business is about being local – local homes, local businesses, and being in the community. We do our best to support local initiatives. When PEI Burger Love came out, we thought we could have some fun with it by going as a group to eat lunch together, have some laughs, and make some fun videos. Since all of our agents are busy doing their own thing, it is great that we can book off one lunch a week during the [Burger Love] campaign to get together.” You can check out the Century 21 fun videos here to see how one local business has embraced PEI Burger Love.
Diners are engaged in Burger Love fever too as they head to local dining establishments to order up the creative burgers. They can rate the burgers they eat by voting online for their favorite and win great prizes in the process as well as help crown the most popular burger in the 2013 Burger Love campaign.
Timing is Everything
April is traditionally a slower month for local restaurants because the tourist season hasn’t yet started but, this year, participating restaurants are hopping busy as burger lovers converge on their establishments to sample the many burger options. Linda Dickie, Food and Beverage Director at Mavor’s Restaurant in the Confederation Centre of the Arts, says they chose to participate in PEI Burger Love because they like to support local whenever possible and it brings awareness to the restaurant. According to Linda, Mavors sold 1700 burgers in the first couple of weeks of the campaign with the highest single day servings of 210 burgers!
Chef James Oja, who owns and operates The Big Orange Lunchbox restaurant in downtown Charlottetown, is a first-time participant in PEI Burger Love. He says the annual PEI Burger Love campaign “generates a busy month giving restaurants that participate a little warm-up for summer”. Chef Oja claims Island beef is the best beef in Atlantic Canada and that his “supplier, Bluefield Natural Products, provides superior beef that is richer in iron, antioxidants, flavour, and texture”.
Just How Many Burgers Can You Eat?
As I mentioned earlier, I was one of nine guest bloggers for PEI Burger Love this year and my assignment was to sample four of the burgers and blog about them. Now, I thought four burgers was a lot to consume in a little over a week. However, Connor Jay set himself the challenge to eat all 31 burgers….and he did… in just 14 days! Averaging two a day plus three on two different days, he proudly says there was one day that he ate two of these huge burgers within two hours! Asked why he decided to set out to eat all 31 burgers, Connor says he thought “it would be something fun to do and would be a great way to experience the Island“. He says he “loves the PEI Burger Love campaign and thought eating all 31 [burgers] would be a great opportunity to get other friends involved in it and that it would inspire them to go grab a burg“. I am also aware of a workplace where employees would order a couple of burgers from each of 3-4 restaurants for lunch each Friday in April, bring them back to their workplace, and cut them into quarters so that co-workers could have the opportunity to sample as many of the burgers as possible.
What’s in a Gourmet PEI Burger Love Burger?
Other than the requirement to use 100% Island beef in the burgers, chefs had unfettered licence to dress the burgers with whatever toppings they wanted and to prepare and present them as creatively as they wished. Suffice it to say that Island chefs rose to the challenge and created some mighty fine culinary creations with unique flavour combinations.
The meat in the burgers generally ranged in size from 6 oz to 9 oz and was prepared in different ways – some burgers were charred over an open flame while others were grilled or sautéed. Toppings ranged from candied bacon (yes, oh là là!) to nachos and salsa, coleslaw, bacon jam, Jalapeno peppers, various renditions of aioli, Portobello mushrooms, guacamole, and onions encased in wontons or presented as beer-battered onion rings, and just about anything else you could imagine going into these tall burgers. Then, there were the many variations of buns encasing all this goodness. One burger even had two grilled cheese sandwiches holding it in place instead of a traditional bun! And, of course, each restaurant creatively named their burger. Here are photographs of the four burgers I was assigned to sample as part of my blog assignment:
From the Gahan House in Charlottetown, PEI, comes the “Not’cha Burger” that features Tortilla chips, salsa, spicy cheese dip, and Jalapeno mayo to accessorize the beef burger.
The “Canadian Legend Burger” was created by the Lucy Maud Dining Room, a teaching restaurant in the Culinary Institute of Canada. It features a gouda-stuffed burger accessorized with smoked tomato aioli, confit cherry tomato, bacon jam, candied bacon, and the best onion rings I have ever tasted.
The Prince William Dining Room of the Loyalist Inn in Summerside, PEI, presented the “Big Kuhuna Burger” that featured smoked bacon, banana peppers, a grilled pineapple ring, and guacamole.
The Old Triangle in downtown Charlottetown created the “Mr. Miyagi Burger” that included Hoisin BBQ sauce, Asian slaw, and caramelized onion wontons.
As you can see, these are huge, well accessorized burgers! If I had one suggestion for organizers for future PEI Burger Love campaigns it would be to consider also offering smaller versions (perhaps even slider size) for those who don’t have large appetites but yet who want to try out the burgers.
The gourmet burgers, on average, are in the $12-$14 range (burger only).
PEI Burger Love Surpasses Expectations
The Prince Edward Island Cattle Producers Association reports being pleased with the campaign. The Association gets great exposure for its industry and, as representative Rinnie Bradley says, they “are a small industry compared to dairy or potatoes so it has been difficult to get our message out to the general public that we are important to the Island’s economy. From truckers, to feed mills, vets, farm machine shops, to processing facilities and meat shops, the beef industry contributes significantly to our economy directly and indirectly.” Bradley says “PEI Burger Love 2013 has surpassed our expectations to date. We are very pleased that so many restaurants have signed on and that several new participants decided to include Island beef on their menus. We hope Islanders and visitors alike will get out and enjoy the amazing burgers, and seek out Island beef for their meals at home.”
So, Islanders, only 6 days left to get out and try some of these gourmet burgers before PEI Burger Love 2013 ends. This is a great way to show support for the local beef industry as well as the many Island restaurants which have chosen to participate in this campaign to promote Island beef. There is a burger out there for everyone’s taste!
POSTCRIPT (May 8, 2013):
The statistics are in for the 2013 Burger Love Campaign. A total of 46,204 beef burgers were sold in 31 participating restaurants during the month-long event in April. This translates into 21,917 pounds of beef consumed during this time period. Sales for the burgers during the month of April are estimated at $580,008.62. Voters selected “The Smokin’ Fox” from Phinley’s Diner in Stratford, just across the bridge from Charlottetown, PEI, as their “Most Loved Burger 2013”.
Not bad, PEI, not bad at all!
(Mostly) PEI and Maritime Food – Good Food for a Good Life!