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Barbra Mayhew


At a Glance:

-Is a proud Islander who's lived in Prince Edward Island her entire life

-Federal public servant by day and food blogger by night My Island Bistro

-Hobbies include travelling, painting, photography, writing, cooking, baking, and cake decorating

-Recently became an ambassador at Ask An Islander

-Developed a knack for all things food at an early age and was never trained professionally


Tell us how My Island Bistro Kitchen came to be?

I finished my Masters of Public Administration and was looking for something creative and hands-on to do that didn’t involve book study.  Blogging had just really come into its own around that time, and I was already sharing my cooking adventures with a limited audience on Facebook.  I decided I wanted to reach a wider audience but didn’t want just another recipe blog. Instead, I wanted to showcase the great food produced on Prince Edward Island, as well as the producers and the farms. I wanted to demonstrate what home chefs can do with our Island food.  I was curious about several foods produced on the Island and decided if I was going to go and find out about them, I might as well share the knowledge with others. A blog seemed to be the best way to do that! My blog provides the platform for me to combine three of my passions:  cooking, photography, and writing!


Tell us about your blog.

I blog about anything to do with food and beverages, including my own recipes and inspiration for creative table settings, afternoon teas, and picnics.  This also includes blogging about culinary events such as Fall Flavours, Savour Food and Wine Show, and new restaurant openings. A core focus of my blog is food that comes from the land and the waters around PEI.  I particularly enjoy paying visits to Prince Edward Island farmers, fishers, and the many food and beverage producers across the Island. I love finding out about what they are producing and helping to tell their story. I then take their products and create recipes with them which I share on my blog.  Focusing on Island products also inspires me to be more creative in how I cook with local products and to find different ways to incorporate them into recipes and present them on the table.  It also gives off-Island visitors to my blog a glimpse into the many fine foods produced on PEI and, to some extent, the general quality of life we enjoy here.

I want to have the flexibility to blog about a variety of food-related subjects so don’t want the blog to be so overly restrictive that it is exclusively limited to just solely PEI content.  Therefore, while the core focus of my blog does revolve around Island foods, I do from time to time, feature products, producers, and stories from off-Island if they fit in with the philosophy of my blog and if I think they would be of interest to my followers.  If I have something interesting to share from my travels, such as taking Afternoon Tea in London, I’ll blog about that, too.  

I like to also blog about vintage recipes and the nostalgic old family favorites that are still considered “comfort” foods today. I find those recipes are often the ones that resonate most with my followers because they evoke fond memories of their own childhood. If there is a connection to good food or beverage, chances are I will blog about it!


When it comes to food and cooking, what are you most passionate about?

Using the freshest, best quality, and locally produced ingredients available. I believe it’s important to buy as much of my food locally as possible because it is freshest and highest quality and I’m supporting the local producers from my community. I believe it’s important to know where my food comes from, who produced it, and how it was produced. I love working with foods that are tasty and easy to prepare.


Who or what has inspired to pursue your love for cooking?

As a small child, my mom always allowed me to help cook and bake.  She had a big yellow mixing bowl that she used for all her baking and, as soon as I’d see that bowl and a spatula appear, I knew something fun was going to happen!  I’d don my little apron and drag a chair to the cupboard and stand on it, waiting for a turn at stirring whatever she was making.  And, she never said ‘no’!  

My grandmother also allowed me to assist in whatever she was cooking or making and delighted in explaining the process to me.  I vividly remember her making her own butter and sauerkraut.  I was exposed to great cooks who were involved in all kinds of food production and preparation.  For example, I always helped in some way with jam and pickle-making so all of this is just second nature to me. It might have just been cutting up cucumbers for pickles or picking the berries for the jam but I was involved in some way and I was encouraged and allowed to be part of it. I was making pies, cookies, and cakes long before I was a teenager.  So, I had great culinary mentors.  

I also had an inspiring Home Economics teacher in high school who really furthered my interest and passion in cooking.


Do you have a favorite meal you love to prepare?

I enjoy cooking pretty much anything, but cooking a tasty turkey dinner with all the trimmings rates high on my list because I love to dress a turkey on a platter for presentation and make it the centrepiece of a great meal. It’s also a great “comfort” food meal.


Do you have a recipe that you’d like to share with us?

Sure! I’d love to share my Lobster Eggs Benedict that features PEI lobster. Click HERE to view the recipe. 


Are there any PEI/local foods that you enjoy preparing?

I like working with all of them – the seafood as well as the fresh produce from the land.  I especially like discovering new products or ones that may have been around for awhile but I’ve never tried, like hascaps.  Sometimes, I’ll prepare the foods in the traditional way they are typically prepared and other times I’ll take them and prepare them in a newer, more creative way.  Of course, I like the produce from my own garden and especially feature rhubarb in a lot of my recipes.


Are there any food providers or shops where you love getting ingredients from?

I like the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market.  The producers there tend to be small farmers and food producers so they put a lot of personal, hands-on care and attention into their products.  The food tends to be more fresh at Farmers Markets because it hasn’t traveled thousands of miles over many days to reach us. I also like to connect with the producers at the markets and talk about their products. When I buy directly from the producers, I’m putting the money directly into the hands of the producers who have done all the work to grow the food. I also like to buy produce at the farm gates and at local roadside produce stands. I think we need to support the local food movement.

For meat, I like KJL Select Meats at Riverview Country Market in Charlottetown.  Again, the meat comes from local Island farmers and I can talk directly with the butchers to discuss different cuts of meat and what I’m looking for.  I find them very accommodating and their meat is fresh and good quality.  

While obviously not an Island product, I do like the variety and quality of olive oils found at the Liquid Gold and All Things Olive store in Charlottetown.  I have quite a selection of their products in my kitchen.  

Reflecting back on it, what were some of the most inspiring and exciting moments you experienced in the kitchen?

Successfully making my first batch of bread as a young teenager under the guidance and watchful eye of my grandmother!  I remember seeing her so proud of my accomplishment.  It was an experience that built my culinary confidence. My grandmother would be beyond delighted if she could see all the cooking and baking I do now.

Buying my first KitchenAid stand mixer.  It was quite a step up from a little Sunbeam hand mixer!  It was a planned purchase so I saved my money for the mixer and remember buying it in the housewares section in the basement of Eaton’s department store in Charlottetown.  That was in 1994 and that mixer has been well used and well cared for and it still works like a charm!


What advice do you have for aspiring cook?

  • Start with simple easy-to-prepare dishes so you build confidence and so you don’t become discouraged. It’s probably best not to start with a soufflé or Beef Wellington!  Newbies might want to start with a simple stew or soup, spaghetti, or macaroni and cheese, for example.
  • Read recipes through a couple of times before attempting them. This ensures you have all necessary ingredients, equipment, and that you understand the preparation method.
  • Set a goal to try one new recipe every week or two – get into the habit of cooking your own food.
  • Look for short-term evening or one-day cooking courses.  Local colleges and supermarkets are goods sources for these.
  • Find a mentor who will help you learn to cook – a friend, relative, or co-worker who is an experienced cook.
  • Invest in a good set of chefs knives and high quality pots and pans.  I still use my first Henckels knives bought circa 1985 and my oldest Paderno pots date back to 1984.  I have a large selection of pots and they are all Paderno – I’ve never owned any other kind of cookware.  They are well used but still look brand new. They’re quality and, if well cared for, really do last a lifetime.  
  • Use good quality ingredients as they will yield a better finished product that is tasty and then you’ll be more motivated to keep cooking.

What's in-store for you in the coming months?

There are always new ideas percolating in my head, but I am limited by time available to pursue them!  Summer and fall are my two favourite times of the year for blogging because there are lots of fresh local foods available to work with and there are a number of foodie events, such as PEI Fall Flavours.  Afternoon teas and picnics will likely make more appearances on my food blog and I will continue seeking out story ideas of interesting things Island farmers, fishers, and other food producers are doing with food.

Also,  I have been invited to be part of the team of ambassadors for Prince Edward Island Tourism's new initiative called "Ask An Islander," launched on May 7th. Individuals contemplating a vacation on PEI can go to the Ask An Islander website and ask their questions about the Island and one of the ambassadors will be assigned to answer it from an Islander's perspective.  

What is the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you?

My mother and grandmother allowing me to participate in whatever they were cooking or making and teaching me the basics at a very early age. It has been a skill-set and experience that has served me well over the years.

Who is the one person you’d like to thank and what would you say to him/her?

My mom for teaching me how to cook and bake and for always letting me help, even when I’m sure she could have done it faster without my help.  This was how I developed my lifelong interest and knowledge in cooking and baking.  I’d say, “look how you influenced me, mom, and thanks!”


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