Spring Countylicious is in full swing right now (April 1 – 24), and yet again chefs at restaurants across Prince Edward County are plating some seriously drool-inducing three-course meals for just $30 or $35. Think roasted corn chowder with smoked haddock and bacon; 28-day aged beef striploin with hand-cut frites and red wine onion demi-glaze; and rhubarb butter cake with vanilla whipped cream.
Here’s a how-to guide for making the most of Countylicious, but have you ever wondered about the story behind these chefs’ Countylicious menus? Do they try to stick to a theme when writing a menu? How difficult is it to feature local products this time of year? What’s the process for putting menus like these together? Why do they participate in Countylicious in the first place?
I went right to the source and asked three participating chefs just these questions: Matt DeMille (Drake Devonshire), Elliott Reynolds (The Hubb) and Nicholas Loshak (Amelia’s Garden). Keep reading for what they had to say.
Chef Matt DeMille, Drake Devonshire
What’s your general approach to crafting a Countylicious menu?
You’ve got to be careful in exactly how the menu works. So first we make sure the cost is good, and then it’s what’s fast and cheerful without sacrificing quality. And then it’s just showing people what we can do. I know it’s only $35, but it gives those who may only come out for a special event another chance to visit for a great price and to enjoy the view and the food.
Tell me about this Countylicious menu, in particular. How did you come up with it?
I wanted to try out things that we had in mind for the spring menu. And I know it’s a bit early, but everyone gets excited about spring being on the way, so it’s always a good idea to have some green things on there. So we have asparagus and peas [e.g. risotto with asparagus pesto, peas and braised leeks]. We also have a nice smoked pork chop on there [with cheesy grits and asparagus], and that’s something we’re thinking about putting on our next menu.
Something that doesn’t usually get talked about is dessert. What was your approach to dessert?
A lot of them are made in our commissary in Toronto, where we have a great pastry and baking team. But our approach is just nice homemade simple dessert. We put warm donuts tossed with cinnamon and sugar on this Countylicious menu, and people just love them. If I sat down to a meal and saw warm donuts or some dessert that had 34 different components, I’m going to pick the donuts. It’s an approach we’ve taken since we opened.
Chef Elliott Reynolds, The Hubb
What theme did you go with for your menu this year?
I took a little bit different approach. What I wanted to do was more of a southern twist on some of the dishes. So you’ll find things like buttermilk fried turkey wing with cornbread and jalapeno honey butter. So it was kind of a twist on a fried chicken dish essentially. But I’m doing it in my own kind of whimsical way, and I thought that would be an interesting dish to put out.
Why did you decide to go that southern root?
I’ve always kind of been interested in it, and I tend to experiment a bit with southern food just for fun. I’m not really focussed on it 100 per cent on this menu, but you’ll see little components. So doing a lot of smoking [e.g spring leek and coconut chowder with smoked pickerel], there are pickled items [e.g. bay scallop ceviche with pickled peppers], I use collard greens, and we make our own cornbread.
The Hubb has been involved with Countylicious for a number of years. Why do you think it’s an important event?
It’s just a great celebration of the region, a good experience, and a great excuse for people to get out and dine at local restaurants. Countylicious is celebrating its tenth year, so it’s a big year for the event itself. And we like to support events like this.
Chef Nicholas Loshak, Amelia’s Garden (Waring House)
How difficult it is to feature local bounty on a Countylicious menu this time of year?
It’s very difficult because there’s just no local produce, so what I tried to do was use products from as close as possible. So all of my proteins come from Ontario—the beef is Ontario corn-fed, for example. And then the Meyer lemon in the dill-marinated salmon is another; I grow those lemons and then preserve them. The peas, I froze from Mill Creek Farm.
What was your general approach to your Spring Countylicious menu this year?
I tried to keep it balanced, so there are vegetarian options there [e.g. chick pea and grilled vegetable bake], seafood [e.g. dill-marinated salmon], chicken [e.g. supreme of grand-fed chicken] — there’s a little bit of everything.
What’s your favourite from the menu?
I really enjoy the dill-marinated salmon with the pickled shallots and Meyer lemon Crème Fraiche. That has been a favourite of mine for many years. It was taught to me by a Danish chef many years ago, and I love making it. It takes three or four days to make, but it is well worth it. And by all accounts, it’s been flying out the door; people are loving it.
Head to countylicious.com for the nine participating restaurants, menus, accommodation options and details about a chance to win two seats at a special County dinner experience for 10.