Annie Leroux and Chef Norm Zeledon are in the midst of their first seasonal session of classes at Annie’s Table Culinary Studio located in the former New London United Church, just steps away from the birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery. GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
There’s no fear of too many cooks spoiling the broth or any other dish in the full slate of tasty delights at Annie’s Table Culinary Studio in New London.
In fact, a bustling kitchen is exactly what owner Annie Leroux and chef Norm Zeledon love as they take culinary adventurists from around the world on edible explorations such as Lobster 101, Oyster Extravaganza and A Food Trip Down Memory Lane, which recreates a menu typical of what Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery would have dined on in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
For the latter culinary class, it is a heavenly circumstance that the newly built studio is in a former church just down the road from the birthplace of the famous Prince Edward Island author and that a tour of that house is part of the trip down food memory lane package.
“This whole menu is how they had it back then. They’re pretty fantastic just the way they are, but as we go along I can tell you how to make them more exciting. So we call it the days of old with a twist,” Zeledon says to his gathered group of foodies who are from all over North American on this day.
Leroux actually started out by buying a little house directly across from Montgomery’s New London birthplace last summer and in the process happened upon the decommissioned church that was for sale.
She had formerly been in the antique business in St. Catherines, but she had also hosted culinary adventures like mozzarella-making and lavender workshops.
So she filled her newly renovated church with Island antiques and hired Zeledon, a professional chef from Nicaragua who had moved to Calgary, Alta., as a teenager.
They worked together to create a full menu of culinary experiences that would appeal to visitors to P.E.I. as well as local food enthusiasts.
“They work and they learn. The whole experience is hands-on, and then you get sit down and enjoy what you’ve made,” Leroux says.
To tap into yet another market, they offer authentic Island culinary experiences, such as an outdoor clam and lobster bake that has been a big hit.
There are also mussel madness classes that showcase, both education- and taste-wise, this popular shellfish in a myriad of ways. Other classes are in pie-making, artisan bread in five minutes a day, an introduction to wine and food pairing classes and more.
For those who want a taste of something different, there are also the increasingly popular Latino Theme Night and Thai Cooking Demystified classes.
“That’s interesting for them because the Thai ingredients are so different and Thai food is steamed and one of the most healthy Asian cooking techniques out there,” Zeledon says.
Karen MacKay, who lives in St. Catharines, Ont., but vacations home in Augustine Cove every summer, had already experienced Latino night at Annie’s Table and was back on this day for A Food Trip Down Memory Lane.
“I always explore P.E.I. when I’m home and I’m always looking for new places to take visitors who want to have some neat experiences of P.E.I. So it’s great to be able to bring friends to something like this,” she says.
Annie’s Table and Culinary Studio also offers a unique venue for all types of special events from business meetings to cultural events to private gatherings to intimate wedding receptions.
“It’s sad to see the churches being decommissioned in the province, but it’s wonderful if someone maintains the integrity of the building and the structure and the history, which Annie has done so beautifully,” MacKay says.
Some people might not understand the appeal of putting themselves in the middle of a warm kitchen on a hot summer vacation day, but for Liz Whidden of New Brunswick and a group of friends from Manitoba it was a recipe for fun.
“Most of us love to cook (and) it’s the eating part of it (that appeals to us),” she laughs.
The many hands in this Food Trip Down Memory Lane group make light work of the extensive menu that includes ginger cordial — a favourite of Montgomery’s — pork mock duck with apples and stuffing, codfish cakes, potato puffs, glazed carrots and mock cherry pie.
“We were thinking of food from the 1800s, seeing what the women did back then, what they would have served, especially being on the Island because we love fish,” says Gerry Boehm of Manitoba.
“These are all the things that were growing and fish they would have caught.”
Although Leroux just happened upon the little white church in New London last summer, she couldn’t have chosen a better spot for her culinary studio if she’d planned it for years.
“We are so well situated here in New London. We’ve got the potato fields here.
We’ve got the mussels. We’ve got the oysters. We’ve got the lobster fishermen. We’ve got it all really,” she says.
“And a culinary studio in (a former) church to bring things together.”
If you go
What: Annie’s Table - P.E.I.’s first dedicated private culinary studio.
Where: In the former New London United Church at 4295 Grahams Rd., New London.
When: June to October.
AT A GLANCE
This recipe for mock cherry pie was adapted from Aunt Maud’s Recipe Book by Elaine Crawford and Kelly Crawford. This pie was Lucy Maud Montgomery’s son Stuart’s favourite.
1 cup raisins
1 cup cranberries coarsely chopped
1 cup cold water
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp vanilla
Coarsely chop cranberries in a food processor or by hand and leave raisins whole. In a saucepan add raisins, cranberries, water, sugar and flour and mix well together. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally. Let cool slightly and add vanilla.
Pour filling into an 8-inch pastry-lined pie plate. Cover with a top layer of pastry. Cut off excess pastry around edges. Crimp edges around rim. Pierce top crust with a fork to allow steam to escape.
Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 F and bake for another 15 minutes or until crust is golden. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
2 cups flour, measured before sifting
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
1 cup lard or Crisco
Using a fork, rub lard into flour until it is like small peas. Add sufficient ice cold water to handle. This makes one double crust.