A Sneak Peek at Charlottetown’s Tastiest Bootcamp
Going to bootcamp while on vacation may sound a bit...erm….unusual, but it really all depends on what kind of bootcamp we’re talking about doesn’t it? Is it the kind that involves push-ups and squat jacks or kneading dough and eating sumptuous food? Because the latter is a dream come true for many a home cook that fancy a chance to sharpen their kitchen skills under the tutelage of a Red Seal Chef in a shiny new commercial kitchen.
Enter the Culinary Bootcamps at the Culinary Institute of Canada, where you can don a chef’s toque and whites, and take a deep dive into the world of food and cooking. I recently dropped in to visit a group of very enthusiastic bootcampers during this seasons’ newest themed experience, Street Eats, and got a first-hand peek at all the fun and learning to be had. Check out my biggest takeaways (besides the full belly I took away because everyone wanted me to join them for lunch!):
Island Flavours Through and Through
Fresh produce at Riverview Country Market.
There’s a good reason PEI is known as Canada’s Food Island: its waters and lands are abundant with the highest quality ingredients and its people have the passion and skills to transform the harvests into unforgettable foods and meals.
Bottom line is you’ve gotta feast PEI foods while you’re visiting: lobster, mussels, oysters, potatoes, PEI beef….the list of classic Island flavours goes on and on. And while restaurants that are locally-focused will undoubtedly provide an epic eating experience, most Islanders will tell you that it tastes even better when you cook it yourself! There’s just something about working with the ingredients and putting your love and some hard work into creating your own meal.
Photo Submitted by Culinary Bootcamps
And that’s where Culinary Bootcamps comes in! You can choose from a slew of camps suited to your specific tastes and what you’re interested in learning about. If the idea of cooking up a bounty of PEI seafood makes you weak at the knees, you’re in luck, because Culinary Bootcamps has got your back with their Sea to Table bootcamp. Or, if you want to explore the local food scene, sign up for their award-winning Island Flavours bootcamp. You’ll get to go on a field trip that includes a trip to Riverview Country Market, KJL Meats and Liquid Gold Olive Oil Tasting Bar, before heading back to the kitchens to cook up a local feast.
No matter what bootcamp you take, however, you can be sure the team has worked hard to infuse as many Island ingredients into the menu as possible. At the Street Eats bootcamp I checked out, Chef Erin Henry listed off all the ingredients in our lunch that were local, including beef, cheese, lobster, vegetables, wine, beer, and potatoes (of course!). Even the cornmeal was sourced regionally, from nearby NB!
The Chef Has Serious Cred and International Experience
Chef Erin Henry.
Spend the whole day (or a half day!) with a chef that boasts seriously impressive culinary chops and you’ll walk away with loads of tips and tricks to bring back to your own kitchen.
This year’s Culinary Bootcamps are headed up by Chef Erin Henry. A 2007 honours graduate of the Culinary Institute of Canada’s Culinary Arts program, Chef Erin has worked as a chef, baker, innkeeper, a restaurant consultant, and food writer. During her Culinary Arts program, she completed an internship at Michelin- starred Gravetye Manor in the United Kingdom. She’s also worked at several PEI restaurants including the Row House, Stanhope Beach Resort and, most recently, was head chef at Piatto Pizzeria. Besides her street cred, I can attest that Chef Erin is an excellent instructor with a great sense of humour!
Joining Chef Erin in the kitchen is Assistant Chef Hannah Levy. Originally from Sheet Harbour, NS, Hannah’s first introduction to the Culinary Institute was as an attendee of the Culinary Teen Camps. Hannah then went on to attend the Culinary Institute of Canada and graduated in May of 2018. She’s now back for the summer, this time assisting Chef Erin Henry and staff – always learning and enjoying through every second!
Assistant Chef Hannah Levy
Rounding out the culinary team is current culinary student Rebecca Sly, who assists with larger groups, bus tours, team-building bootcamps, etc. Hailing from England, Rebecca brings with her over 20 years of culinary experience, including manager of a major UK confectioner, a school cook and cooking teacher, and also cook at a café-style bistro. She now calls PEI home and is passionate about celebrating PEI’s terroir and local producers.
Regardless of which themed bootcamp you choose, whether it’s Sea to Table to Munch on Brunch or even Bread and Butter, you can rest assured your savvy culinary team will be sharing their supreme kitchen skills and know-how with you throughout the bootcamp. From the best way to prepare and present our amazing, world-renowned seafood to mastering hollandaise sauce or learning how to make homemade tortillas, you’re sure to leave with some new recipes and techniques that’ll up your kitchen game!
Shiny Kitchens, Green Gardens
The Culinary Institute of Canada underwent massive renovations in 2017 to the tune of $ 7.2 million dollars. The renos included an overhaul of the kitchens at the Institute, including the ones used by bootcampers. Is there anything better than working in a shiny new kitchen complete with commercial-grade, top notch equipment? You might just want to reno your own kitchen after spending a day at the Culinary Institute!
As if the kitchens weren’t enough to make you swoon, the Culinary Institute also boasts a mighty sweet garden filled with herbs, greens, berries and other goodies. There’s a good chance you’ll be tasked with spending a few minutes harvesting ingredients for the day’s menu. Now THAT’S hyper-local!
Harvesting from the Culinary Institute's garden.
Lunch PLUS Dinner to Go
Sitting down to a scrumptious feast with friends is the ultimate reward for those that love to cook. You’ve created a unique piece of art and now you get to savour it in the most tangible and tasty way possible!
Poutine ingredients ready to assemble.
The folks at Culinary Bootcamps seem to follow the adage that you can never have too much of a good thing. They’ve designed their Full Day Bootcamps so that you get to enjoy not one, but TWO scrumptious meals from your day’s work in the kitchen. During the morning, you’ll work alongside fellow bootcampers to prepare a marvelous midday meal. You’ll take your lunch ‘break’ at the Culinary Institute of Canada’s Dining Room, where you can pair your feast with a local beer, wine or craft soda and bond with bootcamp pals over your masterpieces and mishaps (as if!). Then it’s back to the kitchens for afternoon adventures and MORE creations that you’ll get to take home with you to impress friends and family!
A well-deserved lunch break.
Impress Your Dinner Guests
If you’re looking to wow your next dinner guests or knock it out of the park at your next family get-together, the folks at Culinary Bootcamps have got you covered. Check out a bootcamp that’ll let you delve into a specific type of food, like Frozen Treats or Sweet Tooth Factory. Or, if you fancy boning up on current trends that are influencing the culinary world, check out Street Eats; Wine, Shine & Brine, or Gourmet Burgers. Bootcampers at Street Eats learned how to make delicious naan bread, lobster tacos, and braised beef, added a unique flavour to corn on the cob and cooked up a mean butter chicken (to name but a few of their morning tasks!)
Grilled corn with covered with a feta spread.
No matter what camp you choose, you can be sure you’ll leave with a bevy of tips and tricks to elevate your cooking game to the next level and have plenty of fun in the process.
Buttering naan bread.
Customize Your Kitchen Adventure
Fancy learning how to create a vegetarian feast or learning how to master the art of grilling? Looking for a class on how to make the most of your herb garden or spice rack? Chef Erin can curate a kitchen adventure to match whatever your burning kitchen desire is. Of course, you’ll want to recruit some pals to join you, as the cost for a customized bootcamps is based on minimum 10 people in the group. So round up a crew and get your cook on!
Having fun frying up chicken.
Going Beyond Your Comfort Zone
As with any sort of bootcamp you’ve not experienced before, you might wonder whether it’s a good fit for you based on your experience and skill level. Worry not because at Culinary Bootcamps, no matter how novice or adept you are in the kitchen, the chefs will help you get out of your comfort zone and into your discovery zone! So, whether you’re just making your first forays into the world of home cooking or have plenty of experience dazzling at dinner parties, your Bootcamp team will make sure you leave with new skills and scrumptious recipes that are sure to become perennial favourites in your household!
Spend Time With Old Friends & Make New Ones
Besides an amazing dive into the culinary world, the best thing about the Culinay Bootcamps from my observation, was the opportunity it offers to reconnect with friends/family and make new friends too! Amongst the bootcampers at Street Eats were a PEI family hosting friends from the US, two couples from Nova Scotia, and a solo traveler from New Brunswick. Everyone was having a great ol' time, with plenty of laughs and antics being had. No doubt, it helps to have a 'character' in the group, but no matter who you're teaming up with, you can be assured of a fun, easy-going day in the kitchen!
A new technique for tossing salad (not necessarily endorsed by Chef Erin)
This couple was celebrating their 5 year anniversary the following day. The team secretly whipped up a cake to surprise them with at lunch.
Shannon Courtney is a self-taught foodie (it involves a lot of eating), writer and aspiring photographer. She is the Content Curator for Discover Charlottetown and revels any opportunity to explore Charlottetown's amazing food scene!