Tag Archives: Jill Harris

A PEI Lobster Party on the Beach at West Point!

What do you get when you put together a PEI beach, a large tent on that beach, lots of lobster, chowder, salads, and delectable lobster savouries, 200 people, a team of talented chefs, and great PEI musicians?  Why, you get a PEI Lobster Party on the Beach, of course!

This past Sunday (September 8, 2013), I attended this signature Fall Flavors event in West Point, PEI, where it was hosted by Celebrity Chef Corbin Tomaszeski of Food Network (FN) fame.

Chef Corbin serving up the best lobster chowder ever!
Chef Corbin serving up the best lobster chowder ever!

You may recognize Chef Corbin as the co-host of FN’s Dinner Party Wars and as one of the chef-hosts on FN’s Restaurant Takeover.  This was the second time that Chef Corbin was the celebrity chef at the PEI Lobster Party on the Beach.  In addition to assisting with event logistics, Chef Corbin was very involved with the menu planning and in leading the lobster team relay event which turned out to be a fun activity….at least for the spectators!

September has become known as “Fall Flavors” month on the Island and PEI is becoming known as a culinary tourism destination, particularly with all the fabulous Fall Flavors events.

Lobster season is still open in parts of the province and the produce from our land has matured and is ready for harvesting.  What better time and way to celebrate the great foods of the Island than to have a series of culinary events and food festivals.

Now in its third year, the Lobster on the Beach Party is held right on the beach at West Point, near O’Leary, in the Western part of the province.  Fall Flavors organizers aim to locate the signature events in communities across the Island so that there is equitable distribution to the extent possible. The lobster fishing season is currently in full swing in the West Point area of PEI and the event was held just up the beach from an active wharf. When asked where the idea for a lobster party on the beach came from, Ian MacPherson, Executive Director of the PEI Fishermen’s Association Ltd., says Tourism PEI has indicated that “a lobster dinner on the beach is one of the most requested activities that tourists request when coming to PEI”.

On Sunday, around mid-day, the skies opened and literally drenched the Island with rain.  Winds were blowing at a good clip – 50-60kpm.  As I was leaving on my 1½ hour drive to West Point, the weather conditions were less than ideal (an understatement) for a beach party.  However, the event was going ahead rain or shine so off I went donned in my rain suit and duckies.  I arrived in West Point around 4:00pm just as the event was getting underway.  By this time, the rain had eased off to a steady, more gentle rain.

A short jaunt through a “muddy” walking path brought me to the beach where I could see the top of a huge white tent, a mobile kitchen, and another trailer and truck.

Down on to the beach, I could see chefs, barefoot, working around some portable cookers and a couple of tarp-covered cooking pits in the sand.  The first person I met was Chef Corbin who was busy steaming mussels in white wine.  Oh, yes, our Island mussels are some good!

So, to set the stage – the large tent actually was right on the beach, anchored in the sand, just a very few meters from the water.


There was no nearby building, no running water right on site, and no electricity.  Can you imagine having 200 people over for dinner under those conditions?  The logistics of producing a sold-out event for 200 people in such a location are many (and these were all in addition to contending with strong winds and heavy, pelting rain all day).  Here are some of them:

–                      the tent was no ordinary tent – it was a special hexagon-shaped tent that is specifically designed for use and anchoring in the sand

–                      the event was held in an environmentally-sensitive area so many permits were required

–                      one mobile kitchen was brought on to the site right beside the beach

–                      water for the mobile kitchen had to be sourced and transported from the nearby Cedar Dunes Provincial Park

–                      several generators were in place to operate the mobile kitchen and the sound system

–                      over 200 lobsters were cooked in the sandpit

–                      an additional 50 pounds of lobster meat was used in a multitude of side dishes including lobster chowder, lobster bacon fritters, lobster potato salad, etc.

–                      the Culinary Institute of Canada was the primary culinary provider for the event providing 12 chefs and 13 serving staff

–                      several directors (all fishers) from the PEI Fishermen’s Association were on hand to show (if required) people how to crack and eat their lobster and to answer any questions

–                 a nurse was onsite for any potential medical emergencies

Carrying out an event like this means attention to detail and careful meticulous planning has to happen – it’s not like an event in a large banquet hall or hotel where the chefs and service staff have everything they need at their fingertips.  For this, everything (food, water, equipment, generators, etc.) has to be transported to the beach.

One of the most fascinating activities proved to be the cooking of the lobster and corn in a sandpit on the beach.  From the number of times I heard him explain it, I am sure Chef Andrew Nicholson from the Culinary Institute of Canada could recite, in his sleep, the process he used for cooking the lobster as well as the corn in the husks!

Preparing the Cooking Pit in the Sand for the Lobster and Corn
Preparing the Cooking Pit in the Sand for the Lobster and Corn

Two pits, each about 5-6” deep, were dug in the sand and lined with river rock.  Firewood was added and a fire in the pit burned for 4-5 hours until it burned itself out.  This heated the rocks which were then used as the heat source to cook the lobster and corn.  A layer of seaweed was added to the top of the rocks and charred wood remains.  A layer of lobsters was laid out in the pit followed by a layer of corn.  Several eggs were placed on top of the corn.  Yes, the eggs were used to determine when the lobster was cooked!  This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of “egg timer”.  As Chef Andrew says, “the eggs never lie”!  Using this method, the chef can periodically remove an egg from just under the tarp without disturbing the lobster cooking below. Once an egg tests hard-cooked, the lobster is done.

Testing the Egg to Determine if the Lobster is Cooked -- Not Quite Yet But Getting There!
Testing the Egg to Determine if the Lobster is Cooked — Not Quite Yet But Getting There!

The entire pit was covered with a tarp and sand piled over the tarp edges to seal in all the heat and make it quite sauna-like inside for the lobster and corn to slowly cook in the steam.

It takes about 45-60 minutes for the lobster to cook under ideal conditions.

Dinner's ready!
Dinner’s ready!

Says Chef Andrew, the products cooked this way have some “wicked good flavour” happening.  This was, arguably, the best tasting lobster I have ever had!

Chef Andrew Nicholson removes the cooked lobster and corn from the cooking pit
Chef Andrew Nicholson removes the cooked lobster and corn from the cooking pit

Chef Andrew is right – there are subtle hints of the smoked firewood and the taste of the sea from the seaweed bed but not so strong that it detracts from the pure lobster flavour.

No PEI party would be complete without local music.  Harpist Jill Harris provided dinner music.

And, Island fiddler and fisherman JJ Chiasson closed out the last hour of the event.

Anyone wanting to experience Island hospitality, fabulous PEI lobster prepared in many different ways, and a lobster party on the beach with great music, then this was the event to attend.  The rain stopped in time for the party and, despite the soggy sand and muddy trek through the woods to the beach, no one seemed to mind the damp, dreary day.  Many (including the chefs) who weren’t sporting “high fashion” duckies or rubber boots, simply got into the party mood by abandoning their footwear and going barefoot.  After all, this was a party right on the beach!

Chef Corbin and Chef Andrew even ventured into the water to set the lobster trap for the lobster relay.  This must fall under the category of “other related duties”, chefs!

Chef Corbin and Chef Andrew preparing for the lobster relay
Chef Corbin and Chef Andrew preparing for the lobster relay

When asked what this event means to the lobster industry on PEI, Ian MacPherson says, “ It is a great opportunity for people to connect with the fishers and understand the hard work and skill it takes to catch lobster.  Financial returns have been very low to the harvesters over the past few years so it is a good way for people to understand how the supply chain works as consumer costs still tend to be high.  We get a lot of questions on sustainability and conservation so, again, this is a great way to respond to these questions.  As you know , most people like to know where their food comes from and who supplies it.  Being directly involved with promotion is new for the harvesters but most agree it is an area we need to be more involved in.”

Tickets for this event were $75. per person.  Those traveling from the direction of Charlottetown and Summerside could board a bus for a nominal fee in lieu of driving themselves to West Point.  Individuals needing a drive between the parking area and the beach could hop onboard one of the golf carts.  Organizers thought of everything!

Whether you are an Islander, or planning a trip to PEI in September, I highly recommend you check the Fall Flavors website for event and ticket information to any of a number of great culinary events.  Be sure to book your tickets early as the signature events, such as the popular Lobster on the Beach Party, sell out – that’s a testament to their popularity and quality.

Photo Gallery of the Sights of Lobster Party on the Beach at West Point, PEI:

Hors d’oeuvres, lobster chowder, lobster in the shell and fresh PEI peaches and cream corn steamed in the husk.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Even lobster potato salad was on the menu!

PEI Oysters are always a hit with foodies!

These lobster vol-en-vent were tasty little savouries!

Desserts, anyone?

Dinner with a water view:

Chef Corbin at work.

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.