Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 20, 2024
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Spring Means Countylicious

Record 21 participating restaurants all around the Island
<p>(Evert Rosales for the Gazette)</p>
(Evert Rosales for the Gazette)

It’s that time of year — another of the County’s famous farm-to-table extravaganzas is upon us. 

Visit the County has been preparing for Spring Countylicious since January, when it studied surveys and data collected during fall’s iteration of the seasonal feast.

That was just the second Countylicious under its watch – and perhaps, after the long hiatus forced by the pandemic and a series of difficult starts, the County’s most successful version yet.

For Fall Countylicious, VTC coordinated a major publicity campaign through its Instagram account, on radio, and in print. It partnered with Instagram “influencers” as well as magazine writers. It hosted five influencer/media tours, for example, including a writer from Canadian House and Home who went on to profile three PEC chefs. 

Professional PR support pitched national media, “to increase the reach and profile,” as Executive Director Eleanor Cook puts it. As a result, 

Chef Michael Sullivan and Wine Director Astrid Young of the Merrill House featured in an 8-minute long segment on CTV Ottawa.

This spring, Visit the County has amplified the pitch to the surrounding region with spots on CountyFM and COOL97. During an hour-long segment on Mix97’s Lorne Brooker Show, three chefs were featured taste-testing various dishes. 

Visit the County partnered with the Picton Gazette 
to feature every one of the 21 eateries participating in Spring Countylicious. 
A pull-out map at the center of the paper, 
illustrated by Evert Rosales, features intricate 
two-dimensional images of each restaurant. 
The paper arrives just in time for opening weekend. 
“I had a great time working on it,” said Mr. Rosales. 
“It was a really fun and meaningful project and being able to reach every business and all the people in the County with it means a lot to me.”

“It has always been a local celebration, said Ms. Cook. “The restaurants and chefs always imagined it as a way to invite residents in during the quieter seasons, when things are less hectic, and you don’t have to reserve weeks in advance.”

“It’s the shoulder season, before tourists are back for the summer. Restaurants, chefs and owners, see this as the time to invite residents in to what is really the jewel of the county, its local food culture,” said Ms. Cook.

About half of the patrons of the fall Countylicious were locals, able to enjoy the bounty of late fall at a more relaxed pace than in summer. The other half of the 129 diners VTC surveyed were from out of town. Many stayed two or more nights in the County.

“This is the time when residents invite their friends to come stay, to try a few of their favourite local restaurants, and really show off the culture. The really special restaurants, wineries, and food networks might not be apparent to a tourist; it’s something a local knows about and can really take pride in showing off.”

While there are multiple “licious” programs in municipalities across Ontario, each iteration is different. The County’s special focus begins with the ability of its chefs to source local food and drink, from maple syrup, cheese, and wine to mustard, cider, and fish.

That is, however, just the beginning.

“It is the network of relationships, the principles of collaboration and cooperation that are so well established between chefs and local producers, that makes Countylicious a standout,” notes Ms. Cook.

The team at the Waring House, for example, prepares “spectacular” fall and spring menus, she notes, because entirely orchestrated and assembled locally — not easy deep into November or in early spring. 

Waring House’s Cheddar and Apple soup features Creasy’s apples, other soups and bisques feature Laundry Farms tomatoes or carrots, and Van Groothest Farms butternut squash. Main courses include County Catch pickerel, Vader’s lamb, and beef from East Lake Farms. Inventive and fresh, the menu shows off years of experience, not least by noting every farm that supplies the restaurant.

“Unless you are told specifically about where Waring House got it all, you wouldn’t be aware,” notes Ms. Cook.

Chef David Correa (supplied photo)

This spring, Ivy Dell lamb is simmered in a Huff Estates red wine sauce. Much of the menu features dollops of Vader’s Maple Syrup. 

When Visit the County inherited Countylicious, founded in 2007 and managed by the municipality, it shifted the emphasis away from regulations to “telling the story of the food culture of PEC,” says Ms. Cook. “Our role is not meant to be regulatory. It’s to facilitate and organize.”

The Blue Sail, for example, participated for the first time in fall. It was able to offset the fact that its main offering, seafood, comes from far away, with “a menu that situated its offering in the heart of the County,” said VTC’s Ali Kaufman.

“Their mussels were not just in a white wine, they were in a Chardonnay from Broken Stone. Their carrots came from Edwin County Farms.”

A total of 19 restaurants participated in fall, and some reported their best season ever. All found themselves at capacity for the three-week festival, some running two menus, the regular and the Countylicious, at once.

“Nobody,” said VTC’s Lindsay Medeiros, “said they were less than busy.” This spring’s 21 restaurants is a new high for our local festival. Be sure to get out and enjoy the festivities!

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 14 edition of The Picton Gazette
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