There were plenty of toasts and good vibes when a group of six reporters recently headed out on a culinary tour led by star chef Michael Smith, Prince Edward Island’s ambassador of quality ingredients and haute comfort food.
Smith introduced us to the up-and-coming chefs at Terre Rouge Bistro and Lot 30, helped us into a lobster boat as we went out to lift the lines for that night’s meal, and brought us to a number of island farms to pick produce right from the ground. It was an educational and celebratory experience, but not everyone was impressed.
The island’s tourism department organized the junket, and its staffers took flak from the local paper and CBC for the cost of the outing. The story played out in the news over the time we were there.
The tourism department defended its decision calling it a necessary expense for marketing the province, as it was a rare chance to showcase the island’s natural wonders to the world via such weighty publications as, ahem, Canadian Geographic — and with a celeb chef to boot.
The marketing folks didn’t play the desperation card in their reply, but perhaps they should have. An overabundance of lobster is driving the prices way down and it’s not enough for fishermen to make a living. A collective shunning of starch by the diet-conscious has meant the island’s defining crop isn’t as in demand as it once was.
Smith’s tour focused on a number of newer foods and crops, such as black garlic and haskap berries, which draw trendy gastronomes to the island, keeping its twin economies of cuisine and tourism healthy. The shiny media spotlight on the island is one that might make it sustainable for the fishermen, farmers, distillers and chefs who make a home there.
Indulge in the flavours of PEI in an upcoming issue of Canadian Geographic Travel.