Building a 21st Century Menu

A chef committed to local sourcing explains

Cheez Whiz in a spray can, “fluffernutter” sandwiches on Wonder Bread, Jell-O pie á la Cool Whip. We’ve all either experienced these renowned 20th century delicacies ourselves or heard of them from our Gen-X parents. Either way, these iconic post-baby boomer cupboard items and lunch bag fillers have, for the most part, become passé food artifacts in the local-savvy food culture of Prince Edward Island and beyond. As the local food scene of the Island (and Instagram) continues to grow one has to question: how do you build a menu fit for the 21st century?

To get the lowdown on menu-building with a local focus, I checked in with chef John Pritchard of the recently-opened Pure Kitchen Pop-Up restaurant in downtown Charlottetown. From Burgertown in April to Noodletown in May, Pritchard is making a concerted effort to maintain the flavour, creativity, and local infusion that he values while offering an affordable menu that will rotate each month and prove appealing to diners.

The juggling act that it takes to create a regionally-conscious menu that is both commercially viable and satisfying to his personal interests is, admittedly, a struggle for Pritchard. It is also, however, the only way that he will operate his restaurant.

As a chef who has been cooking with local ingredients since his culinary career began in the late 80s, Pritchard is familiar with the moral dilemma that many chefs today are faced with when it comes to sourcing locally, “I try to use local as often as possible, it is a when-and-where-you-can kind of approach. When I just can’t swing it, I feel guilty. I really do. ”

Pritchard said that when creating his menu, the main items of the dish are what he commits to buying from Island producers. “The protein, the veg and the starch, the items that cost the most, those are the ones that I buy locally.” Not only is it morally gratifying to connect with and support your local producers, it also “tastes so much better and is better for you.”

The Pure Kitchen team: Back, L – R Crystal Belanger, Hanna Hameline, Leif Hammarlund, Peter Forbes. Front, chef John Pritchard

With an increasing focus on local, this is an exciting time for food and farming on PEI, said Pritchard but he also warns against throwing the word “local” around too often. According to Pritchard, the concept of local is something that has become quite commercialized.

The “local” label is often deceiving as to the quality of the product as well as the degree to which the product is sourced from Island farmers and fishers, “Just because it is local does not mean it is good. Local should really be implied rather than stated on every item in the menu,” said Pritchard.

Just as a consumer is constantly trying to navigate the modern food landscape, balancing grocery store trips with farmers’ market visits, many chefs today are coping with the same struggle (and excitement) when it comes to putting food on the table. Pritchard’s advice? Do what you can- buy the main menu items close to home as often possible, and don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re trying your best.

About Hanna Hameline

Hanna is a graduate of UPEI with a B.A. in Sociology. She has completed trainings in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Shambhala Meditation, and Maritime Yoga College 200-HR Yoga teacher training program. Hanna currently works as the communications coordinator for the PEI Certified Organic Producers Co-operative and has volunteered with PEI Food Security Network, ECO PEI, The Voluntary Resource Centre, and Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. She warmly invites you to contact her with any food lovin’ stories or ideas you would like written about.

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