Celebrating PEI Food and Culture at The Table
It may be tiny, but small-town Prince Edward Island is getting a mighty reputation as an exciting food destination. The island province known for its fertile red soil is checkered with farms, artisanal producers, innovative field-to-table chefs such as Michael Smith, and a culture of community around food. Agriculture is huge here — in particular potatoes — as is sustainably harvesting the bounty from the sea, evident through the fact that you can buy small, succulent lobster year-round. The best way to get to know what all the hype is about is to join The Table Culinary Studio, an immersive, multi-faceted epicure’s program that pulls it all together.
PEI is a leisurely-paced, friendly place with traditional family values — gathering in the kitchen is what folks do. Chef and owner of The Table Culinary Studio, Derrick Hoare, aims to convey that, channeling his passion for locavore fare and island culture. He shares it through an offering combining PEI growers and their harvest, hands-on experiences in the field, cooking classes with a team of pro chef instructors, and evening dining — all infused with history, distinctive personalities, and local flair. Visitors learn about traditions and get tips, such as how to harvest and use Black Gold (that is, black garlic), how to tell a male from a female lobster, and how to de-beard a mussel. Chef Derrick’s approach has garnered international media attention and awards — the experience is unscripted and authentic, and that’s what strikes a chord.
Set in in New London near Cavendish on PEI’s north shore, the studio is a homey, delightfully reimagined former United Church constructed in the 1950s. There’s an open kitchen and adjacent dining area that’s all blond woods, white walls, and exposed brick with an eclectic collection of antiques and old fishing remnants, original stained glass windows, a spiral staircase, exposed trusses, and lots of natural light. The studio puts on technique-focused courses combining traditional PEI recipes and the latest sophisticated culinary trends for six to 10 people — from beginner to advanced.
Classes are also designed to engage the senses. Using ingredients grown and harvested on the island, guests do all the work under the expert tutelage of the house chefs, making meals step-by-step, then sitting down to savor them over a glass of PEI wine. Specific topics range from artisan bread making and expert seafood prep, to cooking with sheep’s milk cheese and historic Canadian dishes, complete with dinner on antique china while listening to a storyteller recount classic tales.
Chef Derrick takes farm-to-table seriously. He hosts interactive in-studio demos by growers and fishers, and also shepherds guests around the island to meet and work alongside growers and craft producers. Ready to pull carrots from the soil on a family farm plot? You’ll be doing that and more. Guests might learn how to cultivate lavender and cook with it; about the role of bees in island agriculture and how to harvest honey from a beekeeper; the ins and outs of sheep farming and cheese making; exactly just how mussels are grown — in socks for two years; and, from an aquaculturalist, how to farm oysters and quahogs. Then, of course, you get to shuck them yourself and bite right into one just plucked from the sea.
Nightly, the studio turns into an inviting and intimate sit-down restaurant for 14 from June to September. Everything is seasonal and from just down the road, prepared by the house chefs, and served family-style. Feasts are three courses, followed by dessert, and there are five themed menus per week: Traditional, open-flame, fusion, seasonal spotlight, and comfort food with a twist. Guests gather around the 12-foot-long harvest table made of vintage salvaged wood just next to the kitchen, swap stories, chat with the cooks as they make the food, toast the day’s wins, and take in the aromas wafting through the dining room. Aprés dinner, there’s either storytelling or live entertainment, followed by sitting around the field-side campfire out front under the stars.
If you're looking for more culinary inspiration, plan your visit in September during PEI’s annual Fall Flavours, an island-wide celebration of all things edible, including seafood-focused Culinary Institute of Canada culinary boot camps. Or book during the celebrity-driven PEI International Shellfish Festival filled with contests, demos, dining, and lots of parties.
If eating is your thing, you’ve come to the right place.
Plan your foodie vacation now at the Prince Edward Island Tourism website.