The Table Culinary Studio: Cooking with 3 Chefs in Prince Edward Island
By: Richard Frisbie
In 2017 Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) and all of Canada is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the 1867 Canadian Confederation, the political process by which the British colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick eventually united to become Canada. The original meeting took place in Charlottetown, the capital of P.E.I., where summer-long events will commemorate the occasion – making this year a great time to visit!
Any visit to the Canadian Maritime Province of Prince Edward Island, no matter what the reason, soon becomes a foodie’s exploration of the island’s bounty. Oysters, mussels, lobsters and plentiful fish are what P.E.I. is famous for. Add to that potatoes, vegetables, milk and cheese from the patchwork quilt of the rolling farmland of the island’s interior, and you have a groaning board of delicious farm-to-table fare.
And, while my culinary sampling of the island was most rewarding, my visit was specific in nature. I wanted to learn how to cook the local cuisine. Once I’d determined that the famed Culinary Institute of Canada (in Charlottetown) was not offering any courses that week, I scoped out the island’s food scene and determined my next best course of action was to find out all about the curious local specialty, Black Garlic, and the ways I could use it. Naturally, for something that focused, I went to the professionals, The Table Culinary Studio, for a black garlic infusion. I found myself in a beautifully converted country church, with a pristine kitchen and three chefs ready to teach me their black garlic recipes. I was in heaven!
Actually, I was in New London, just outside of Charlottetown, the home of The Table Culinary Studio. On Mondays and Thursdays it is a 24 person family-style restaurant. Other days it is a culinary school. Chefs Derrick Hoare, Roark MacKinnon and Michael Bradley invited me into their kitchen for an intensive culinary class on Black Garlic. At least that was the plan. An unfortunate accident with a sharp instrument sidelined Chef Derrick, who was relegated to pouring wine and sharing stories for the afternoon. But Chef Roark and Chef Michael charged into the breach and double-teamed me in the kitchen. They had my head spinning.
A neighboring farm cures garlic using a slow, moist, low temperature cooking that turns it black and slightly sweet tasting in a fruity, roasted, caramelized way. That creates a versatile ingredient that appeared in each dish we cooked, which then became our meal.
Chef Roark started off by making a pasta the way any Italian nonna would, breaking an egg into the flour on the counter and mixing it right there. As I watched, he formed the dough and rolled it out into a long strip. I told him I made ravioli that way but used a bowl and a hand-cranked pasta roller. (I didn’t mention the pasta attachment for my KitchenAid mixer.) He explained that all their lessons were given without kitchen gadgets of any kind so anyone, regardless of how well-equipped their kitchen was, would have the skills to make these dishes. How they used their newly acquired skills in their own kitchen was up to them.
Somewhat chastised, and certainly more aware of the intensity of his instruction, I paid closer attention. It was not ravioli he was making, but aggnolotti, similar to elongated ravioli but rolled twice and egg washed inside to hold it together. For that he made a mushroom, beet, black garlic and ricotta stuffing for the cutest little pastas. He repeated the process to make capelletti, or top hat pasta. Then I tried my hand at it with less-practiced results.
Finally, both pastas were cooked and served differently. The aggnolotti were simmered in salted water and served with a delicate onion cream sauce while the capelletti were simmered and served in black garlic infused chicken broth. Both were delicious.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. While all this was happening, Chef Michael was busy at his station. I glanced his way a few times and was intrigued, so while the pasta rested I caught up with what he was doing. I work in a bakery where I started at the bread station. He seems to be the baker of the bunch so we quickly hit it off. He was making a potato & black garlic dough which he separated, rolled out and braided to create an intricate “New London” knot of his own invention.
After the bread rose he baked it, glazing with olive oil when it was nearly done. Then he proceeded to make black garlic butter and a black garlic and beet chocolate cake iced with two kinds of chocolate. I kidded him about so much chocolate and, when he said everybody likes chocolate, I broke the news to him that I didn’t. I could tell he was disappointed. But the cake was so beautiful and, when cut, so moist looking, that in the end – when he thought I wouldn’t – I tasted it. Sometimes being polite has its rewards. Then I ate the whole piece – delicious! It was so much more than just chocolate cake.
These guys are not fooling around. The cooking was innovative – both in technique and recipe – and the process was exacting. The experience was totally different from my normal routine. Working in a fast-paced commercial kitchen sometimes has me taking shortcuts which would not fly here. These very talented young men taught me to slow down and appreciate the process; to take my time and do it right. And they did it graciously, with good humor.
They also made wonderful dinner companions! Chefs Mike, Roark and Derrick are hometown boys passionate about their cooking. We talked food, sailing and the natural beauty of P.E.I. until there wasn’t a crumb left on the plates, or wine left in the glasses.
From a farm-to-table perspective, everything was local, including the blooms from the lavender in their garden decorating my plate. Even the wine, which was a nice chardonnay from the Matos Winery the next town over, was delicious. That is the amazing thing about eating in P.E.I., what they don’t catch in the sea, they grow or make themselves, creating delicious and healthy ingredients for intensely good food. When you visit you’ll see and taste what I mean.
The Table Culinary Studio
4295 Grahams Road, Route 8
Prince Edward Island
Tel: 902 886 2025