Charlottetown & Summerside Prince Edward Island

Food! Glorious Food! A memorable experience in PEI

Carmen Phinney

I love food, and over the years, I've chopped, seared, and julienned my way through kitchens in many different countries. But perhaps the most memorable experience was in my own Canadian “backyard,” when my travel-writing sister, Sandra, invited me to go on a weekend jaunt to PEI in the fall of 2011.

The entire weekend was foodie heaven, falling as it did during PEI's Fall Flavour Festival, a month-long celebration of the island's fabulous foodstuffs and extraordinary chefs. Although Charlottetown boasts several high-end restaurants, this festival is truly island-wide, so you can eat yourself stupid almost anywhere.

The morning after our arrival, we took a Taste of the Town tour, a three-hour, three-kilometre long saunter through Charlottetown during which our guide provided a wealth of information on the city's history. He also took us to seven culinary establishments, each of which offered a sample of its unique product: oysters, chocolate-dipped potato chips (I know, I know, but some folks really do like them), COWS ice-cream (voted the best in the world by a gaggle of globe-trotting ice-cream mavens), mussels, flavoured olive oils and vinegars, micro-brewery red beer, and a superb, locally made blueberry vodka (which made me rethink one of my cardinal cooking rules about not using fruit in odd ways).

That evening, we drove to Summerside to attend the festival's Beef and Blues event. It featured an enthusiastic blues band, busy bar, and six beef-tasting stations where you could sample the chefs' finest dishes, exquisitely plated. Everything was delicious, but I seriously wanted to marry the chef whose special offering was pan fried smoked-bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin stuffed with blue cheese.

The highlight of the weekend was a cooking lesson in Charlottetown the next day with Chef Curtis Ellis, who helped us to mince and beat and fold and season our way through his kitchen, until we had created the following meal with locally produced ingredients: a smoked salmon appetizer served with sour cream instead of the usual cream cheese (Chef Curtis says it has a nicer texture), followed by the best mussel chowder (with feta cheese, homemade pesto, and homemade grainy Dijon-type mustard) I have ever eaten.

The next course was a wild mushroom pasta with an amazingly tender baked fresh lobster tail. We then had a seared beef tenderloin that you could cut with a fork and seared fresh salmon with brown sugar and chilies, both of which rested on top of sliced oven-roasted potatoes garnished with fresh herbs, the whole thing complemented by an artful sliver of baked eggplant and a dob of fresh tomato chutney. And lest we go away hungry, there was dessert--heavenly chocolate mousse with whipped cream and fresh blueberries and cinnamon--of which I was unduly proud, having been a significant member of the dessert team.

Just before we waddled out of Chef Ellis' private dining room, he told us that he likes to go mackerel fishing off a nearby wharf for relaxation, but by that time, I was so stuffed that I couldn't bring myself to ask him how he cooks it. Maybe on the next foodie trip to my PEI backyard.