Get To Know PEI’s Chef Of The Year: Jesse MacDonald
Name: Jesse MacDonald
City: Launching, Prince Edward Island
Current Occupation: Executive Chef at Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort
Favourite Hobbies: Spending time with my girlfriend Shantal, hanging out with our kitties, sports, reading and of course, eating!
Favourite Cookbook: This is a tough one for me to answer as I have a pretty extensive collection.
Right now I’m really digging Wildness–an ode to Newfoundland & Labrador by Chef Jeremy Charles however, it’s hard for any book to impact me as much as Alinea by Grant Achatz and The French Laundry by Thomas Keller did early on in my career.
Favourite Food To Eat: This changes almost weekly for me, currently I’m pretty enamored with pickled fiddleheads and any protein coming off a grill.
Growing up Jesse MacDonald had no aspirations of becoming a chef. Raised in Launching, PEI, he was born into a fourth generation lobster fishing family where throughout his life he would hold every position in the family’s lobster boat from “cork to captain.” His childhood home was located on the corner of his grandfather’s large family farm so he was able to spend ample time as a youngster gaining an appreciation for all things local. Growing up, farm to table wasn’t a movement or a fad for Jesse & his family, it was simply a way of life.
In middle school he quite innocently got a summer job washing dishes at a local resort property and these two wonderful worlds began to collide. By the time Jesse graduated high school he was one of the lead cooks in the resort’s main dining room. Jesse then made the decision after high school to pursue cooking as a career and that fall attended the Culinary Institute of Canada graduating in 2010. Jesse spent time on the Island apprenticing under well-known chefs and establishments before, during and after graduation prior to leaving the province to broaden his culinary horizons with stops in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, France, Italy & Spain. After returning home to his native PEI in the spring of 2018 he accepted the position of Executive Chef of Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort as well as Corporate Culinary Ambassador for Rodd Hotels & Resorts.
Being home has served Jesse well since returning to his roots. In July 2018 he was awarded Chef of the Year for the PEI Tourism departments Best of Sea Restaurant Promotion which hosts the best chefs the Island has to offer to compete for the privilege of representing PEI at the International Shellfish Festival during the Garland Canada Chef Challenge Event and the chance to go head to head against some of the best chefs the country has to offer. Jesse was also crowned Setting Day Festival Chef of the Year in May 2019 during the PEI Setting Day Festival Chefs Competition, where 8 of the Island’s Top Chefs were invited to compete in a fans choice competition celebrating the first catch of the spring Lobster Season. Since returning to red soil Jesse has also become very involved in the Culinary Federations PEI chapter, as well as cultivating the next generation of food service professionals here on the Island, taking on a role as a support chef instructor during his resorts off season at his alma-matter, The Culinary Institute of Canada. Jesse is looking forward to his second full season back home in PEI, and is excited to continue to do his part to help build the already obvious momentum on “Canada’s Food Island.”
Q&A With Jesse MacDonald
1. When did you start cooking?
I was 15 years old
2. Where did your passion for food begin?
My passion for food began at an early age, but I didn’t really realize it. My whole upbringing was centered around food, to the point where I was a bit naïve and thought that this was a normal way of life for most people. It wasn’t until entering my first professional kitchen in 7th grade that I realized I had a leg up on most people when it came to knowledge and understanding of our food source, particularly the one here on PEI. Growing up my family’s lifestyle was dictated by the land and the season—in the spring when my parents fished lobster together, that was the focus and our lives revolved around that, early mornings on the water to late evenings on the wharf getting set for the following days catch. Further into the summer once the traps were on the wharf, it switched to my grandfather’s farm– putting in hay, straw and grain before the rain came, ensuring the cattle were moved from field to field to effortlessly graze on lush grass, mending fences for poultry and livestock. To some it doesn’t sound like the most exciting or interesting childhood, but for me, I absolutely loved it and I wouldn’t trade the upbringing I was so fortunate to receive for anything in this world.
3. Describe the favourite dish you make?
It’s between two very different dishes. One is our Island Lobster & Garden Tomato Chowder, one that I’ve used in many occasions in many different establishments over the years. The second would be our Island Amish Blackened Chicken that is a new dish for the 2019 season. I was very lucky to happen across organically raised chickens by our Amish neighbors in King County, PEI and I just hope I am somewhat doing justice to a simply beautiful, next level product.
4. What are your favourite ingredients to cook with? And what ingredients do you shop at Wholesale Club for?
Favourite ingredient to cook with is anything pork or vinegar. I utilize Wholesale Club for a myriad of different things but I particularly lean on their dry spice section for sauce and protein flavoring as well as our house created spice blends featured throughout our resort menus.
5. If you were trapped on a deserted island for the rest of time and could only eat three types of food, what would you choose to eat?
BBQ. Pizza. Pogos with tons of ketchup!!