An island surrounded by the abundant fruits of the sea and a landscape of rolling hills and little patchwork farms make up the culture of Prince Edwards Island. This combination of fishermen, farmers, and small town feel make PEI the perfect destination for culinary adventures. They call PEI “The Gentle Island” but after a few days of exploring the island I thought it should be renamed the “Culinary Island”.
Filled with restaurants and seafood shacks that source everything locally, not because it’s the ‘in’ thing to do, but because that’s what you do when you live on an island. It really is the ‘perfect storm’ of PEI food all coming together on a small island; a foodie’s dream destination.
As you drive around the island you see little vegetable stands placed at the end of driveways, sometimes manned by the farmer or kids, and sometimes it’s just self serve and a little money box is left for you to place your money.
In addition to vegetable stands, you also see hundreds of churches on the island. Each little community has multiple churches; white wooden buildings that remind you of small town life. In fact, there were so many churches on the island that many of them were put up for sale and being refurbished into homes, B&B’s and anything else you could dream up.
So why not bring the two together – fresh food and churches? Yes, it’s a little strange – but when you have a design vision like Annie does, it actually works! Annie bought the New London church that was up for sale near her home.
She not only had a desire to refurbish the church, but she also wanted to satiate her hobby of cooking. She made the church into a spiritual kitchen mecca – with the plan to host culinary classes there within the shell of the old church. She kept beautiful details from the original church such as the alter, and somehow fit in a professional, industrial kitchen. When I first stepped inside, I gasped at how beautiful it was, who wouldn’t want to cook here in such an unusual space?
Annie and her chefs, Norm and Sarah, offer a variety of classes and cooking styles including PEI food farm to table – with each class being hands on. This is not a class where you just sit and watch and take notes, you actually do the cooking as a group. After everything has been prepared then you sit down in the church at a long communal table and enjoy the meal that you just made a as a group.
The Farm Experience
White Gables Farm
I was excited about the hands on aspect, as I tend to learn so much more when I actually do something for myself. My parents and I just arrived and suddenly we were back in our cars driving to the nearby White Gables Organic Farm to pick up our ingredients for the meal we were learning to prepare. We met the family who ran the farm, divided up the ingredient list among our cooking classmates, and soon were tramping through rows of vegetables. We all spread out and picked leafy greens, beans, raspberries, carrots, potatoes and garlic; ingredients we would need for our afternoon feast.
I had a pitchfork in hand and started digging up potatoes and garlic – transporting me back to my childhood memories of doing gardening chores all summer that I hated. My parents were slightly amused and confused by this ‘farm to table’ cooking class since they have a large garden at their home in South Dakota and do this sort of ‘farm to table’ cooking every day. Regardless, it’s not often that people actually get to harvest their food, prepare, and eat it all in the matter of hours, and I loved the idea of using only what we needed and supporting the local farmers directly.
Me collecting the famous PEI potatoes
Much to my mother’s surprise, we used beet greens in our salad…a part of the vegetable she normally throws away!
My dad picking raspberries to turn into our raspberry sorbet!
The Kitchen Experience
Chef Sarah, Annie’s daughter, passed out aprons to each of us, and soon Chef Norm had us cleaning all of the veggies and fruit we brought back from the farm. Our menu today was pork tenderloin with apples and stuffing, fresh green salad, and raspberry sorbet for dessert. Chef Norm immediately had my parents working on the raspberry sorbet while I washed and chopped greens.
Things started to get more complicated when Chef Norm showed us how to cut and tenderize the pork, stuff it, and roll it into the perfect looking sushi roll. You could participate as much or as little as you wanted.
Like any good meal, the preparation was filled with socializing, drinking, and learning all coming to a crescendo with everything being ready at the right time. I’ll never understand how chefs do that…timing is everything. The pork had come out of the oven smelling delicious and was settling and cooling while Chef Sarah showed us how to make a zesty salad dressing, and the remaining people set the table. By this time I was starving and ready to devour all of this delicious smelling food!
Chef Sarah and Annie working in the kitchen together – it’s a family affair!
My mother taking instruction from Chef Norm while my dad watches on….just like at home!
Sarah chopping apples for the stuffing. Don’t let the tattoos distract you, she’s one smart and together woman. Heading back to school for her PHD.
The pork tenderloin (wrapped in bacon) resting to the right temperature before we carve it up!
The Table Experience
By now everyone in the class had all got to know each other a little bit as we all took a seat at the table and Annie topped off all of our glasses of wine. I was actually surprised to find out that our fellow students were not tourists, but were from PEI and just wanting to take the course and learn more about cooking. It was a spectacular afternoon meal with new friends learning about the area, and even getting a few tips for our remaining time on the island.
The communal table in the beautifully redone New London Church!
Fresh green salad
Pork tenderloin in bacon with apple stuffing, potatoes, and fresh carrots.
Raspberry sorbet – all made up in 2 hrs time…delish!
Annie and Norm are entering their 4th season of farm to table cooking classes, so check out their calendar and see what’s happening in the little white New London church this summer!
Disclosure: I was a guest of PEI Tourism, however all opinions expressed here are my own.