2019 PEI International Shellfish Festival celebrates 24 years

Oysters, mussels, lobster, crab, and more—PEI is blessed with an abundance of shellfish and each year we celebrate our fisheries’ bounty with a weekend of feasting and frolicing.

For 24 years, people from far and wide have gathered in Charlottetown to watch accomplished chefs compete for cash prizes, participate in kitchen demonstrations, rub shoulders with celebrity chefs, party at the East Coast’s biggest kitchen party, and of course, eat incredible PEI shellfish.

This year’s festivities kicked off on Thursday evening with Feast and Frolic, hosted by chef Michael Smith. The evening has become a hallmark of the festival, with guests snapping up tickets far in advance of the evening. A full lobster meal is served to over 100 people and it’s a testament to the behind-the-scenes team led by chef Irwin MacKinnon from Papa Joe’s that each guest is served a hot meal in a timely and well-coordinated manner.

Chef Latoya Fagon, food critic Madame Marie, and chef Lynn Crawford taste the final two dishes of the Garland Canada International Chefs Challenge Photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Friday’s highlight was the first two heats of the Garland Canada International Chef Challenge, where 12 chefs from across Canada and the US created a shellfish dish in 45 minutes. Required to use at least three PEI shellfish in their dishes (choosing between lobster, mussels, clams, rock crab, and oysters) the judges, chefs Lynn Crawford and Latoya Fagon and food critic Madame Marie had a difficult choice narrowing down the 12 competitors to six. Heading into the semi-finals on Saturday were chefs David Viana, Matthew Sullivan, Nick Chindamo, Brian Thibodeau, Daniel Kim, and last year’s winner Darren Rogers.

Saturday saw the semi-final heat of the challenge and when chefs Nick Chindamo and David Viana were announced as the two chefs to head to the finals, it was no surprise. Viana is the chef at New Jersey’s Heirloom Kitchen and has been nominated for a James Beard award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic. Nick Chindamo is a chef at the Inn of Bay Fortune’s Fireworks and was the winner of the Restaurants Canada Garland Chefs Competition in January of this year.

Sunday brought the final showdown between chefs David Viana and Nick Chindamo for the $10,000 prize in the Garland Canada International Chef Challenge. An intense 45 minutes passed quickly as each chef prepared their final dishes for the judges. Chef Viana created a lobster and mushroom crab cake, mussel fennel puree, and a mushroom butter emulsion. Chef Chindamo’s dish was inspired by marrying the sea and land. It had lobster basted in mussel escabeche, tomato and lobster tomalley puree, leek and clam puree, charred leeks braised in clam juice, shallots stuffed with crack and leek fondue, leek and oyster powder, leek and oyster oil, and tomato caviar marinated in mussel liquor. With an artistic touch, he gave each judge an oyster shell which contained the leek and oyster oil and asked them to complete the dish by drizzling the oil onto their plates.

After tasting and deliberating, the judges awarded Viana the title and the $10,000 prize but the competition this year was the stiffest ever, according to Crawford. Chindamo walked away with his head held high and a $2500 second place prize.

Along with the high stakes of that challenge, throughout the weekend local chefs competed in the best PEI Potato Chowder, with chef Erin Henry of the Culinary Boot Camp taking home the $1000 prize with her hodge-podge inspired chowder. The Restaurants Canada Shellfish Excellence Award was given to Blue Mussel Café and the 2019 Raspberry Point International Oyster Shucking champion was Mike Osborne.

Blue Mussel Café, winner of the Restaurants Canada Shellfish Excellence award
Photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

The final chef competition of the weekend was the Dairy Farmers of Canada Junior Chef Challenge. The second year for this challenge, it pitted six young chefs against one another, with each getting their own sous-chef to assist them. After their competition in the first two heats of the International Chefs Challenge, chefs Christine Hazel, Jesse MacDonald, Juan Pderosa, Brian Thibodeau, Matthew Sullivan, and Darren Rogers were on hand to help the young chefs with their dishes, and to give them tips along the way.

Chef Michael Smith once again hosted the challenge and he said, “I’m thrilled to see kids cooking,…it’s just magnificent, and a lot of fun too. I’m proud of the format we came up with, to coach them…they have a mentor with them right there helping. And I think that’s so reinforcing too.”

The Junior Chef winner was Lilly Coughlin, who created a ‘Lobster Mobster’ sandwich. She walked away with a $1000 prize and with that, the 24th PEI International Shellfish Festival came to a close. Mark your calendar for next year’s dates, September 17-20, 2020, when the Shellfish Festival celebrates their 25th year.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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