Jesse MacDonald, executive chef of David’s at Rodd Crowbush, named 2019 Best of Sea Chic Chef of the Year in recent competition

Chef Jesse MacDonald is honoured to be named the Best of Sea Chic Chef two years in a row. “I’m pretty excited,” he said. “The competition was a little stiffer this year so it feels good to keep the title.”

In previous years, the Best of Sea (BOS) competition ran for the month of June and participating restaurants (and chefs) created special dishes for their menus. The dishes were judged by a panel as well as a public vote for their favourite dish. The Best of Sea promotion falls under the purview of the PEI Fisheries and Communities department, and the spring provincial election and the resulting change in government created a time crunch so the usual format changed for this year’s Best of Sea.

Most of the usual rules applied: any red seal chef currently residing on Prince Edward Island working at/owning a PEI restaurant or food service facility was eligible to compete in two categories, The Ultimate Seafood Fusion and The APPsolute Seafood Starter. In the entree competition, chefs had to use at least three PEI seafood species in their dish and the appetizer category required them to create with at least two types of seafood. The chefs had the following seafood to choose from: lobster, snow crab, rock crab, mussels, oysters, quahaugs, soft shell clams, bar clams, Bluefin tuna, mackerel, herring, halibut, smelts, smoked salmon, and eel. This year, instead of chefs creating seafood dishes to be sold in their restaurants, interested chefs applied to prepare their seafood creations specifically for the judging panel, allowing for more complex dishes.

The new format saw the competing chefs assemble at Canada’s Smartest Kitchen on August 19 and 20 to prepare their dishes. MacDonald felt the new format offered a higher level of competition. “I feel like the competition was a lot stiffer this year,” he said. “And I feel a great deal of pride in PEI itself, even just for us [chefs] to do this, for there to be an increase in the chefs in the competition, to be a willingness to put themselves out there and be unbiasedly critiqued only makes the scene here as a whole better.”

At stake was not just the title of Best of Sea Chic Chef, but the opportunity to represent PEI in the Garland International Chef Challenge at the 2019 PEI International Shellfish Festival. That challenge has a $10,000 prize. The BOS winner was determined by their top combined score of their APPsolute Seafood Starter and the Ultimate Seafood Fusion.

MacDonald won the top prize for his starter and was second to chef Sean Burton from the Inn at St. Peters in the entree division, which gave him the overall title of Chic Chef 2019.

Jesse MacDonald’s menu used local PEI seafood
submitted photo

Coming in second place overall was chef Sean Burton, Inn at St. Peters; third place went to chef Dave Mottershall, Bogside Brewing; fourth to chef Seth Shaw, The Brickhouse, and fifth place to chef Terry Nabuurs, Terry’s Berries.

Having competed last year in the Garland competition, MacDonald feels that he is better equipped for the September event. “There was a lot of unknowns, something as simple as what equipment will I have, how much space am I actually going to have, what’s the format? All those little details I am going to be able to use in my planning. I should be able to push myself quite a bit harder as far as techniques and components of my plate goes for the competition this year.”

He knows the competition is stiff this year, and has set his goal to make the top six, but is certainly reaching for that top prize as well. “This year I have an elevated sense of focus of what the task is and how to get it done.”

MacDonald is unabashedly enthusiastic about PEI’s food scene and just how incredible it has become. “I think after five years of Best of Sea, if you were to go back and look at the first year compared to the fifth year, the chefs have come leaps and bounds. Part of that is because there’s been such a surge on the Island with Food Island Partnership, that push to Canada’s Food Island branding, all the chefs are really eager and ambitious but they’re also pushing themselves.”

“There’s a big camaraderie, that’s evident right now,” he said.

He also honoured the chefs who have brought PEI’s food reputation to the level it now sits at. “A lot of the people that I first learned from, they were the pioneers of PEI food, the ones that saw PEI for what it had and its raw beauty, and then transformed their food around the products that they had available.” He named chefs Hans Anderegg and Irwin MacKinnon as influences on his career. “I feel a huge debt of gratitude [to them].” As MacDonald’s career progresses and he hits his thirties, he recognized that it will be part of his role to influence younger up and coming chefs, just as his mentors did for him.

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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