Earlier this week, the kitchens at The Public House at Jackson’s Falls Country Inn were abuzz with activity. All hands were on deck at the Milford, Ontario restaurant ahead of Countylicious, Prince Edward County’s seasonal celebration of local food in local restaurants. The event, held every spring and fall, brings together producers and restaurateurs to collaborate on a curated prix fixe menus at locations across the county.
“It’s really kind of a chance to bring people in in the springtime, to get a taste of what we would call ‘farm to table’ cuisine, experience fine dining in the County, see what’s changed from year to year in terms of new restaurants,” says Karen Palmer, destination development and marketing coordinator for the County of Prince Edward.
At participating restaurants, it’s also the kick off to the busy season in a community that relies heavily on tourism.
“It’s the beginning of the season, we’re talking to our farmers, and the whole team is in, working together and preparing for the whole year. In the spring, Countylicious is like a shot of energy, and in the fall when we do it at the end of the season, it’s like a big wind-down,” The Public House’s chef and owner Lee Arden Lewis explains. She spoke to us in the midst of the spring cleaning and food preparations, pausing mid-conversation to remind someone nearby that they needed to add “forage juniper berries” to the day’s to-do list.
This spring there are 11 restaurants celebrating Countylicious with special menus.
“They’re located all across the County. We’ve got a restaurant participating for the first time in Consecon, the Western-most end of the county, and we’ve got a few in Wellington, Bloomfield, Picton, Milford and Waupoos. It really is the length and bredth of the County,” says Karen, who is particularly excited to try the “Beerlicious” Menu at Wellington’s Pomodoro, where Chef Lili Sullivan is incorporating local beer into dishes.
Back at The Public House, the three-course Countylicious menu is a reflection of Chef Lee Arden Lewis’ personal heritage and connections locally, both to the land and food.
“I’m half Scottish and half Mohawk, and I’m from here. Tyendinaga is my territory, and it’s just over the bridge,” she says.
Chef Lee grew up in a family of hunters, fishers, and food-lovers, and the Countylicious menu features recipes the Chef learned from her grandfather, including his sumac bannock and Mohawk corn soup made with heirloom Mohawk corn.
“I like introducing food with a historical content to it. I love the surprise that this is different but it’s also familiar, it’s home-cooked food. Even across cultures, home-cooked food is something we recognize,” she says, explaining that finding common ground over food can be a starting point for deeper understanding.
“I like people to come in here and feel at home and realize that we’re all the same when we sit down at the table together.”
Ahead of Countylicious, Chef Lee is puzzling out the familiar questions faced by any cook worth her salt, at home or otherwise:
“Everyone comes back for our braised short ribs, and the question I’m always asking is: have we ordered enough of them?”
Countylicious runs until April 29th. To learn more visit countylicious.com
Story by Meghan Sheffield
Photography by Jeannette Breward