A Chef’s Island

Bejewelled acrobats and seaweed crisp. Love Junkies and braised cow’s cheek.  Chef whites and ice carvings.  The unexpected and the spectacular loomed large at A Chef’s Island, the final Signature Event of The PEI Fall Flavours Festival.

A friendly greeting from the evening’s entertainers. Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

Arriving at The Delta Prince Edward, Charlottetown’s stunning waterfront hotel and conference centre, I take in the scene that greets me. Streams of shimmering sunlight are flooding the breezeway, as if Mother Nature had been invited to join the party and wanted to make a grand entrance.  Well-known chefs and artisan producers line either side, overseeing long tables filled with decadent displays of food – gouda cheese from Glasgow Glen paired with royal purple jams and jellies, platters of Papia Papa’s ethically-produced charcuterie, and a mouth-watering display of fresh PEI oysters being shucked by none other than PEI’s own celebrity chef, Michael Smith.

The space is buzzing as familiar faces are spotted and catch-ups ensue.  The atmosphere is light and airy, with a hint of formality thanks to the swanky venue and live string music playing in the background.  My hunger gets the better of me (pro tip: always skip lunch before a Fall Flavours Signature Event) and I find my way to more live action stations, where impressive appetizers are being served up by friendly, talented chefs.

First up is a salted halibut dish from Gallant’s Shellfish & Seafood that’s simply divine. I say a quick hello to the proprietor, Tyler Gallant, and his partner, Christine, before carrying on. Next up is Canada’s Smartest Kitchen, where mushroom toast and shots of an unusual-but-tasty gazpacho-style soup are on offer.   It’s time for a drink and across the room I spot the perfect thirst-quencher – an Upstreet Craft Brewing station, replete with options for the beer lover and craft soda drinker. I choose a sample of my new favourite Day Drift soda flavour, the Apple Ginger Elderflower.

Gallant’s Shellfish & Seafood team serve up some tasty appetizers. Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

Gallant’s Seafood & Shellfish appetizer. Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

I end up chatting with one of the Love Junkies, Dan, who is equally keen to eat his way through each of the nine appetizer stations.  We wait patiently for a trifecta of flavours being served up by Sobeys and Hopyard. First up, a lobster salad that’s both simple and simply scrumptious, then it’s on to the most adventurous of the apps, the braised cow’s cheek. While I see some folks in front of me are a bit shy to try the cheek, I happily devour mine. It’s refreshing to see a lesser-known cut of beef being served at such a high-end event and I hope it will inspire some of the diners to be more adventurous in their own kitchens. Cow cheek, by the way, is tender and succulent. And then, finally, it’s HopYard’s taco station, where the flavours of Asia and the ocean mingle in harmony.

And what timing! Just as I finish my taco, we’re invited into the main ballroom for Act II of the evening, a sit-down feast.  The scene that greets us as we enter the ballroom is decadent, white linens and floral centrepieces are accented by bursts of colourful lighting. There’s a stage at the far end of the ballroom set up for The Love Junkies, one of PEI’s most beloved party bands. In the centre of the room is a wide open floor space and four long swaths cloth suspended from the ceiling to the floor.  Clearly, Act II is going to be a feast for all the senses.

And with that the lights dim, the sound system fills the room with DJ-esque beats and four women in sparkly purple gymnast suits enter centre stage. Within seconds they’ve climbed the cloth ropes and are bending, rolling, twirling and otherwise mesmerizing the crowd with their acrobatics and demonstrations of strength.

When the lights come back on, Chef Michael Smith takes to the stage to welcome everyone and explains the inspiration for the performance. As we’re celebrating Canada’s 150 and happen to be in the city where the idea of Confederation began back in 1864 during the Charlottetown Conference, the organizers wanted to honour that moment in time. It turns out that the Conference delegates had a hard time finding a place to stay in the city back in September of 1864 because there was a circus in town and the hotels were packed to the gills.

Photo credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

With that explanation under his belt, Chef Michael turns his attention to the evening’s main attraction – the dinner menu.  As this evening is meant to celebrate the Island’s chef community, each course has been prepared by a different chef. First up is an amuse bouche prepared by chef Irwin MacKinnon of Papa Joe’s Restaurant – a chicken-goat cheese roulade served with green apple chutney, beet sauce and pickled chanterelles. The appetizer is an elaborate dish created by chef Javier Alarco of the Delta Prince Edward that features Atlantic Salmon cubes, Yellow Tail Tuna Tataki and a fresh corn and sweet potato salsa. The main course is from chef Andrew Smith of Redshores Racetrack and Casino and showcases long bone-in beef short rib along with a heirloom tomato mushroom and herb barley pilaf and fall vegetables. Finally, dessert is an epic homage to Island fruits prepared by chef Isabelle Chevarie and Chef Michael Smith of the Inn at Bay Fortune, that contains 12 familiar and less-familiar fruits from PEI along with a brown butter rum tart, roasted squash cream and a seaweed crisp that’s shaped like the Island.

The dessert course at A Chef’s Island features 12 Island fruits.//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

 

As dinner service comes to an end and the tables buzz with lively conversation and the clinking of wine glasses, it’s time to announce the winner of the 2017 Chef of the Year Award.  It’s almost like we’re at the Oscars and the suspense is palpable. Without further ado, after sharing many kind descriptors of the recipient, his name is announced….chef Irwin MacKinnon!   A well-deserved recognition for the chef’s contributions to PEI’s culinary scene and his culinary prowess.

Chef Irwin MacKinnon (front with plaque) is recognized as the 2017 Chef of the Year//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

And with that, Act II comes to an end and Act III commences with yet another stunning acrobatic performance at the centre of the room.  And after the acrobatics are over, the Love Junkies hit the stage and deliver a set of dance-inducing, high-energy cover songs. It’s the perfect nightcap to a perfect evening at A Chef’s Island in Charlottetown.

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon oversees all content creation for Salty and may be ‘slightly’ obsessed with proper apostrophe usage. When she’s not writing about food, she’s either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a holistic-nutritionist-in-training and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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