Getting a thick, creamy Prince Edward Island seafood chowder into the marketplace is the culmination of years of working at his craft for chef Greg Aitken of Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Whether it’s winning best chowder accolades in the annual Shellfish Festival in Charlottetown, or feeding 1,000 people in one day at the first annual Souris Food Feast, this shrink-wrapped, frozen seafood chowder is making an indelible mark on the appetites of consumers across the Island. With 19 years of cooking to his credit, Aitken began his career with one of the top chefs in the country at the age of 16. “I was chef Michael Smith’s protégée when he first moved up here from New York,” he says. Aitken enhanced his skills by attending the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, graduating in 1996 and cooking in Island restaurants.
Aitken’s seafood chowder, a family favourite, was always on the menu. Featuring no less than five seafood choices in the chowder, plenty of P.E.I. milk and potatoes, white wine, and generous helpings of butter, salt, bacon and garlic spices, the dish was in high demand. “One day it just came up that we should go into manufacturing [the chowder],” says Aitken, noting that after receiving continuous feedback from customers, the family made the decision together.
With the expert help of the P.E.I. Food Technology Centre, Aitken found a niche market for his convenient “heat and serve” chowder. Buying lobster from Mickey Rose Seafood, a local fisherman/plant owner, Aitken and his mother Dona kicked things off in 2007 with a two-kilogram bag, targeting just the wholesale market. “But all of a sudden the retail was there,” recalls Dona.
Today, P.E.I. Specialty Chowder is also available in 450-g bags, sold across the Island through Mickey Rose Seafood’s mobile market.