This Spud’s for You! 

PEI Potatoes Showcased at Toe Taps and Taters 2017

My love for PEI potatoes is known far and wide. Or at least as far and wide as my mother. Every year when new potato season rolls around, she reminds me of the time when I was 15 and we went for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Summerside. I asked the waitress if I could have new potatoes as a substitute for rice, and was devastated (and maybe just a little bit outraged) when she informed me they didn’t have any potatoes in the kitchen.  I remain as smitten with new PEI potatoes now as I was then, though I’ve thankfully gained a greater sense of where to source said potatoes (hint: not at a Chinese restaurant). My carefully honed spudey sense told me that I’d find potato bliss at Toe Taps and Taters, a Signature Event of the 2017 PEI Fall Flavours Festival, and it turns out I was right.

Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

On September 8th, with the sun shining brightly, I made my way out to Canoe Cove, a leisurely and gorgeous 20 minute drive west of Charlottetown along the south shore. Toe Taps and Taters had relocated from its previous venue, the potato museum in O’Leary, to an equally unique space in central PEI – a potato warehouse. Yes, that’s right, myself and about 200 other folks from near and far had all set our GPS for the coordinates of Sherwood Produce – a potato packing warehouse capable of storing 9 million pounds of potatoes or, you know, hosting a high-end culinary event complete with live entertainment, a celebrity chef, and more than a few surprises.

Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

And boy did the event organizers come out of the gate strong with the surprises.  The minute I stepped out of the car I heard the very distinct Celtic sounds of a bagpipe being played. Say what you will about bagpipes, to me they evoke a sense of majesty and timelessness that is soul-stirring. Arriving at the entrance to the warehouse, I noticed a familiar face holding a large round of cheese. Chef Jeff McCourt of Glasgow Glen Farm was on-site with a smoker making to-die-for racelette appetizers featuring his spectacular gouda cheese.

Jeff McCourt of Glasgow Glen Gouda serves up a mean Island-style raclette! Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

Next up I was greeted by a giant potato mascot who had a perpetual smile on his face and tiny arms. My request for him to give me a ‘potatoey pose’ was met with a smile. Smiles all around as I was handed a pair of gardening gloves and informed I’d be going on a hay wagon ride and picking my own PEI potatoes.  Admittedly, I considered giving this particular activity a pass initially, but warmed up to the idea after a sample of bubbly at the Oyster Bay station I discovered upon entering the giant blue warehouse.

Oyster Bay wine samples! Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

This was not my first fancy event in a barn. In fact, I’d been to two Island weddings held in barns over the past five years (and not barns built for the purpose of hosting events, but bonafide barns). But I was still mighty impressed by the transformation of the cavernous, concrete warehouse.  The first large room, which served as the reception area for the first portion of the evening and the concert space later on, was decked out to the nines with cocktail tables, lights, banners and harvest-inspired accents.

Blueberry beer! Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

PEI Charcuterie.//Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

Along the perimeter, food and drink stations were laid out with precision and thoughtfulness.  In addition to the aforementioned wine station, guests were invited to enjoy potato risotto, the always-delicious Blueberry Beer from the Gahan House/PEI Brewing Company, potato and leek handpies made by Papa Joe’s Restaurant, samples of the many impressive delicacies created by PEI Charcuterie, and last but not least, moules frites. Wandering over to the moules frites station, I had to do a double-take of the chef at the station. It was none other than Chef Irwin MacKinnon of Papa Joe’s Restaurant. He recognized me immediately, as we’d had an interview back in June, but he was going sans moustache, so it took me about 5 seconds to clue in. (See photos below for comparison. Hardly recognizable right?!)

Chef Irwin MacKinnon//Photo Credit: Heather Ogg Photography

Chef Irwin MacKinnon with Kelly Murphy of Versatile Management Group at Toe Taps and Taters//Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

The reception area was packed with folks eating and drinking to their heart’s desire, whilst enjoying the tap dancing talents on the stage.  I decided to duck out for the highly touted hay wagon ride to a potato field and am glad I did because that’s where I found chef Chuck Hughes. He was definitely excited about the prospect of harvesting potatoes by hand, as were the many folks on the hay wagon. We were given basic instructions by one of the knowledgeable farmers leading the wagon rides (pull the green plants gently at their base and then pull the potatoes off the roots. If there aren’t any potatoes attached, start digging), and invited to fill our own potato bag to take home.  Chuck happily posed for pictures with the guests while joking around. We were then whisked back to the reception just as it was wrapping up.

Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

Handpicked PEI potatoes//Photo credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

 

Chef Chuck Hughes with his potato haul.//Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

The next portion of the evening was sit-down meal in a second room that, again , had been transformed into a dining space that I can only think to describe as upscale, cozy country. This portion of the evening was absolutely stacked with surprises – not least of which included a potato oath made official with a shot of moonshine for every guest, a ginger MC that had the whole room in stitches with his quick wit and Island-style commentary, and rounds of potato-focused trivia (sidenote: did you know PEI farms about 88,000 acres of potatoes each year, or that the potato industry contributes $1 BILLION dollars to the Island economy?!).

I appreciated that the organizers gave Karl Bruenjes from Atlantic Beef Products and Alex Docherty, a 5th generation potato farmer and the owner of Sherwood Produce, a chance to speak on the stage (i.e. bales of hay in the middle of the room). Chef Hughes also gave props to chef Irwin, noting during our potato oath that Irwin had prepared most of the meal to come.  In humble chef style, Irwin’s brief pre-dinner speech centred around thanking the producers that had supplied the ingredients for the evening, then he jumped off the stage and jogged back to the kitchen.

The main dining hall//Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

To say the food we were served was delightful is an understatement. And perish the thought that the potato is just a boring, white vegetable – the chefs at Toe Taps & Taters proved such naysayers wrong at every stage of the dinner.  There were salmon haddock potato cakes served alongside a marinated Island blue mussel salad for the appetizer. This was followed by a main meal of slow roasted Island prime rib in red wine rosemary jus, along with roasted garlic-horseradish whipped PEI potatoes, yorkshire pudding, seasonal vegetables stuffed in roasted zucchini rounds, and a sweet pea puree.  The dessert was an Island blueberry cobbler with a russet (that’s a potato variety!) crumble and lemon cream.  Throughout dinner the service remained impeccable. If I ever get married, I know who I’m going to hire to host the dinner!

While we were digging into our mains and simultaneously professing that we were stuffed, Chuck took to the stage to talk a bit about his experiences as a chef, speaking to the importance of sourcing ingredients locally whilst also sharing some of the realities that come with running a restaurant. Audience members were given the chance to ask him questions as well and then it was time for another kind of entertainment.

Thanks to a new partnership with Small Halls, a select number of this year’s Fall Flavours events will feature stellar musical entertainment as part of the newly launched Fall Halls series. Toe Taps and Taters marked the debut of Fall Halls with award-winning  country singer Trinity Bradshaw taking to the stage.  A native of PEI, Trinity’s been making waves on the national country music scene and I now understand why.  Her powerful voice and catchy, line dance-inducing tunes were the perfect way to cap off an evening that was, more than anything, a celebration of everything that makes PEI such a special place –  from high-quality food grown by committed farmers, to warm, authentic Island hospitality and humour, to stick-to-your-guts homestyle cooking (with just a dash of finesse added in) to musical talents that know no bounds.

All in all, it was a night to remember.

Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

 

 

 

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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