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Prince Edward Island is known for many things: Their red soil, their small landmass, potatoes, and its hyper green landscape, to name a few. But the province nicknamed Spud Island is perhaps most prominently known for their fresh seafood. The province has two lobster seasons, lands an average annual total of six million pounds of oysters, and most menus across the province feature crab, clams, scallops, and mussels. In saying this, it should come as no surprise that PEI is so in love with their shellfish that they have a four-day shellfish festival featuring cooking competitions including celebrity chefs, the world’s longest lobster roll, live music, and numerous open food tastings. Coupled with a healthy dose of Maritime hospitality and enthusiasm, it’s no wonder the twenty-year-old PEI Shellfish Festival has been building momentum and growing bigger each year of its existence.
First and foremost, this event is like a massive East Coast kitchen party, and no quality Canadian party is complete without Caesars. The PEI Shellfish Festival kicks off with a “Best Caesar in Town” contest and rolls right into Prince Edward Island’s largest all-you-can-eat oyster bar in which you cast your vote for your favourite oyster in the Oyster Growers People’s Choice award. All of this occurs while the Food Network Canada’s Chef Lynn Crawford and comedian Patrick Ledwell try to make you laugh so hard you can’t breathe, never mind eat and drink. Are you reading this? Caesars, oysters, and live comedy; it’s like a quality Friday night and we’re only getting started.
The following day sees twelve of Canada’s best chefs compete in a head-to-head elimination cooking competition. If you’ve watched Chopped Canada you know how exhilarating, and hunger-inducing these competitions can be, and that’s when it’s on a screen. Can you imagine what it’s like to see world-renowned chefs panic as they try to cook a shellfish dish in a head-to-head format, in front of a live audience, while trying to please a panel of celebrity judges and the Culinary Institute of Canada for a grand prize of $10,000? Yeah, it’s going to be good.
Prince Edward Island can’t let anyone forget about their prized potatoes (for good reason) so the PEI Potato Chowder Championship closely follows the Chef Challenge. Alternatively, if you want to improve your drink mixing chops, Clint Pattemore takes a crowd through a demonstration on how to make a damn good Caesar capable of quenching the thirst of any Atlantic Canadian, and shortly thereafter you’re able to witness the PEI Oyster Shucking Championship. The Oyster Shucking Championship is to the Shellfish Festival what the U.S. Open is to golf, in that anyone can compete. If you think you can shuck 12 oysters and present them on the half-shell faster than any human on the planet, feel free to sign up here. Then watch the pros compete as PEI holds their own provincial Oyster shucking championship.
The next day features more celebrity food and drink demonstrations, plenty of live traditional PEI folk music, and the Tie-One-On Mussel Competition. The name of this contest isn’t exactly what it sounds like, though it should be expected that most competitors would have tied a few drinks on prior to the start of this unique challenge. No, this is a contest to tie the most buoys and socks. It’s open to anyone who will dress in rain or oil pants and rubber boots during the competition…seriously. The evening ends with more live entertainment including an interactive trivia show titled, “Who Wants to Be an Islander.” Time to study up.
The final day of the PEI Shellfish Festival begins with an opportunity to burn off the accumulative calories of the previous three days with the 36th Anniversary Terry Fox Run on Confederation Bridge (that enormous picturesque bridge connecting PEI and New Brunswick). If you haven’t “run a Terry” before, you’re missing out as it’s an amazing opportunity to embrace and build community, while also supporting a good cause in honour of a Canadian legend. You can sign up for Charlottetown’s Terry Fox Run, here. Finally, the whole event tends to wrap up with an anniversary party and plenty of live music.
So, if flowing beer and Caesars, fresh seafood, live music, and celebrity chef cook-offs seem like something you might be into (and why wouldn’t it?), check out the PEI Shellfish Festival and spend a few days living like the Islanders do.