PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND - Prince Edward Island spuds are in a class all their own at Annie’s Table Culinary Studio in New London this season.
© Mary MacKay - The Guardian
Monica Gillis of Hampton, Lynn McQuade of Clinton and chef Norman Zeledon fry up some potato latkes.
And whether it’s in an appetizer, entrée, dessert or even a potato vodka cocktail, Spudtastic sessions show that you can boil, fry and bake this tasty tuber in the most unexpected ways, as well as drink it, too.
“Wow! That is so good and we made it — or helped make it!” exclaims Christine Briggs of Lloydminster, Alta., as she takes her first bite of a slice of unbelievably moist P.E.I. Potato Chocolate Cake.
She and Lynn McQuade of Clinton and Karen Middleton of Ottawa, Ont., were on a road trip exploring some of the finer food things that P.E.I. has to offer so they decided to make Annie’s Table one of their sumptuous stops.
“I’m eating my way through Prince Edward Island,” laughs Middleton as they enjoyed their Spudtastic class, which is one of many offered at this rural culinary studio that is located in a fully revamped decommissioned church.
Owner Annie Leroux and chef Norm Zeledon are now in their second season of introducing culinary adventurists to 22 different classes such as seafood 101, mussel madness, for the love of beer, la cuisine d’Acadie and a food trip down memory lane, which recreates a menu typical of what Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery would have dined on in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“(The studio is) for people to experience something special on the Island and to meet other people and to obviously have some fun,” Leroux says.
“And to leave having a feeling of “Wow! What an experience! What a venue! I’ve learned things from an instructional friendly chef and I’ve met other people and I’ve had the best food ever.’ That’s what I want people to experience.”
Being in the heartland of some of P.E.I.’s prime agricultural producers and seafood harvesters makes it easy to source the freshest of ingredients for the culinary classes and to showcase where they come from.
“We have incredible food on the Island. We want to highlight all the food and all the producers. . . ,” says Leroux.
“We love it all and we will teach people as much as we can about food that is available on the Island. And that’s what’s so fun because we have the whole landscape to work with, the whole food landscape.”
For Zeledon, being in a culinary studio setting is like no other position he’s worked at before.
“You have to keep it fun, entertaining and you have to read the crowd as to whether they’re a foodie and you give them as much insight as you can or whether they just want to come and do a quick get-their-hands-dirty a little bit and then they’re just interested in eating. So you always have to gauge the class and try to make it exciting as you can,” he says.
Participants are as varied as the menu.
“We recently had four university students who are in their 20s. They are here at the university to learn English, so they came to learn how to cook pasta but also to practice their English skills. And then also we have three retired people and then we have a teacher in her 30s so it’s all over the map,” Leroux says.
“And that’s what’s so wonderful about cooking because you can bring all kinds of people together and they learn from each other.”
Before the Spudtastic class, Robin Petty of Burlington, Ont., who summers in Long River, P.E.I., was definitely not an über tuber fan.
But it didn’t take long for this former non-spud eater to become a potato convert.
“I love pasta and this is not like any gnocchi I’ve ever had before,” she says of this potato-based entrée.
“(My husband, Clarke) is going to be really happy I took this class. He loves (potatoes) so now we’re going to eat more,” she adds with a laugh.
When all the prep work was done, everyone settled into their places at the huge wooden dining table to start their Spudtastic feast that also included sesame sticks, smoked salmon-topped potato latkes and a tasty cocktail make with potato vodka from the Prince Edward Distillery.
The conversation was as hearty as the meal, and there wasn’t a single smartphone in sight.
“I just love to sit and watch their faces when they take the first bite,” Zeledon says.
“They’re exchanging email addresses, there’s laughing, everything. The other day it was almost quarter to midnight and they were just sitting there (having fun and conversation) and the class ended at 10. They had such a nice time. And I think the venue does a lot, too, to make them calm and happy and in a good mood. It’s just a relaxed atmosphere, so things happen naturally.
MAKE THIS AT HOME
Here’s a recipe that will top off any meal
P.E.I. Potato Chocolate Cake
1 cup (250 mL) P.E.I. Yukon gold potatoes, mashed & hot
1 cup (250 mL) Water, lukewarm
2/3 cup (150 mL) Butter, softened
2 cups (500 mL) Brown Sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) Vanilla Extract
2 cups (500 mL) All Purpose Flour
¾ cup (188 mL) Cocoa
2 ¼ tsp (11 mL) Baking Powder
½ tsp (2 mL) Baking Soda
¾ cup (188 mL) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease 9x13 baking pan and dust with cocoa powder. Remove excess cocoa powder and set aside.
Whisk water into mashed potatoes until a smooth mixture is formed.
Beat butter, brown sugar and vanilla for 4-5 minutes with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
Add 2 eggs and mix until blended, scrape down sides of bowl; add remaining eggs and continue mixing until well blended.
Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir to combine.
At low speed, alternate adding the sifted dry ingredients with the potato mixture until incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips.
Place batter into the prepared pan; smooth out top. Bake for 30 minutes, until cake springs back when pressed lightly and begins to move away from the sides of the pan.
Cool in the pan on a cooling rack. Sift confectioners’ sugar over the cake or an icing of your choice.
Store at room temperature for up to 3 days in an airtight container. Cake also freezes well.
(Recipe courtesy of the P.E.I. Potato Board)