Like many people, I had always wondered what it would have been like had I chosen another path and gone to culinary school. I love cooking and baking, I love working as part of a team and, most of all, I love getting compliments on my creations. I practically force them out of people. Modesty is not my strong suit. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered Holland College was offering culinary bootcamps during the summer. Signing up for one was a no-brainer. Choosing which class I would take was the hard part. Seafood 101, Local Flavours, Seasonal Desserts … the list went on, and each sounded better than the last. In the end I chose the class that was out of my cooking comfort zone – Thrills on the Grill. I do all of my cooking indoors, my patio time is spent sipping on frosty drinks and sunbathing.
When the day finally arrived, I knew I had made the right decision. Barbecue season was in full swing and I knew I would soon be able to put my new skills on display. I could practically hear the compliments already!
I was filled with nervous excitement walking into the Tourism and Culinary Centre. And hunger. The place smells delicious! I met my fellow classmates, who were all like-minded wannabe chefs, but the similarities ended there. From teenagers to retirees, every demographic was accounted for. Some were locals, some, like myself, were from away, and many others were tourists. All eager to be there, all ready to cook – and eat. We got suited up in our chef jackets and hats and at least looked the part when we entered the state-of-the-art kitchen at the Culinary Institute of Canada.
Chef Jeff split us into pairs, assigned us to a cooking station and told us we would start the day by making barbecue sauce and red pepper pesto. Our stomachs really started grumbling when he told us these would be used for the grilled flatbread pizza we would be having for lunch. We got to work chopping and simmering, stirring and tasting. Chef Jeff showed us how to stretch out the dough for the pizza, and with a few quick flicks of hands he had a perfectly round pizza base. He was the only one. I didn’t have to worry about getting my pizza mixed up with another student’s because mine was uniquely oblong in shape. But it tasted like perfection! We had the chance to get to know one another over lunch and find out where everyone was from and what had brought them to the culinary bootcamp. Locals shared tips with the tourists – where to eat, where to stay, which beaches to go to, where to avoid. A lot of insider knowledge was passed along in the cafeteria that day.
After lunch we got to work on entrees. Each pair was assigned three dishes to make, and I was happy to see sweet potato fries, white fish with cucumber and avocado salsa and PEI beef kabobs on my list. Who knew you could make sweet potato fries on a barbecue? My friends and family were going to be impressed!
After a few hours of preparing our meals, with lots of guidance and encouragement from Chef Jeff and one of his former students, we plated our creations and set up a buffet. It was truly a sight to behold. Over a dozen dishes covered the table and the smells were out of this world. We filled our plates and headed up to the Lucy Maud Dining Room. The view of the Charlottetown waterfront was the only thing that could distract me from the food I was about to eat. It was one of those moments that make you truly appreciate Prince Edward Island. Chef Jeff opened a few bottles of wine and joined us at the table. The meal was one of the best I have ever eaten, and knowing I now had the skills to recreate it was the most gratifying part of the entire experience.
White fish with cucumber and avocado salsa
4 6oz white fish portions (swordfish, halibut, bass, etc.)
1 English cucumber peeled, seeded and diced
1 avocado, pit removed and diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ small red onion, chopped
3 limes, juiced
½ cup cilantro, chopped
Put cumber, avocado, garlic, red onion, lime juice and cilantro in a bowl. Season with salt to taste. Allow ingredients to merry for 15-20 minutes. Season fish with salt and place on hot, oiled grill. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until desired doneness has been reached. Put salsa over fish and serve. Serves 4.