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Two County restaurants on Food Network’s Big Food Bucket List

Chef Samantha Valdivia with Big Food Bucket List host John Catucci filming at La Condessa in Wellington. – The Food Network photo

By Tom Harrison
Two Prince Edward County restaurants are being featured on the Food Network’s new season of Big Food Bucket List.

The Food Network shoot at La Condessa in Wellington, and at Flame and Smith in Bloomfield, took place in the summer of 2021, for the third season of the show airing this April and May.

Big Food Bucket List host John Catucci (You Gotta Eat Here!) takes viewers on food adventures across North America sharing drool-worthy dishes and culinary stops along the way.

The filming was a “fantastic” experience, says Chef Samantha Valdivia of La Condessa. “The crew was so professional. They worked together like a family the way they can read each other.”

The episode featuring Wellington’s Mexican eatery is titled ‘Taco Chance on Me’, and features Chef Samantha’s traditional approach to food preparation, based on her Mayan heritage.

For the taco shell, she uses a process of nixtamalization, a method she says has been largely lost, since ready-bought ingredients are often simpler and cheaper. The traditional process prepares raw dry corn, which is boiled to preserve it and make it more nutritious, to produce the flour, which is moulded by hand into taco shells.

The result?
“Some of the most authentic Mexican food you will ever feast on,” says host Catucci in the episode. Later in the show, Chef Samantha also prepares a tuna tostada, that the host describes as “the best” he’s ever had.

Catucci’s appreciation for La Condessa’s food, extends to its cook.

“Chef Samantha is so incredible,” says Catucci. “She was so full of excitement and loved showing off her food. Tacos are always fun and she just makes incredible tacos! The love that she has for her food really comes out in what she’s serving her customers.”

Big Food Bucket List host John Catucci with Chef Hidde Zomer of Flame and Smith in Bloomfield – The Food Network photo

Also featured in a second episode of the program is Hidde Zomer, who is the head Chef and co-owner at Bloomfield’s Flame and Smith.

In the show, Catucci emphasizes Hidde’s distinct approach to cooking with fire at the Bloomfield restaurant.

“When you see food being cooked over an open flame with the smoke coming off… to see that amazing cut of beef with the heat from the wood was a beautiful sight,” said Catucci. “All their vegetables are cooked that way, as well. Chef Hidde is such an amazing chef and to see how many things he cooks on that fire using that heat was just incredible!”

Chef Hidde was also enthusiastic about having his cooking and restaurant highlighted on Big Food Bucket List and surprised by how much work and effort went into the filming that took place over two days.

“The host was very good” says Chef Hidde, noting Catucci’s enthusiasm and obvious love for the food.

Both restaurants feature farm-to-table fresh County ingredients in their menu items.
For Chef Hidde, using the freshest products builds on his experience when he started using organic vegetables and other farm products, working with Chef Gert Hageman in Europe in the late 1990s.

Using locally-sourced ingredients, and rotating them on the menu based on availability was not as much “a thing” back then, says Zomer, but he found it “inspiring”.

After spending time at restaurants in Toronto, including well-known locales like Note Bene and the Carbon Bar, Zomer and his partner, wife Sarah, came permanently after visits to the County, in part to seek a more family-friendly place to raise their children.

“We thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have a restaurant in the country, and have a fire, and work with local farms,” he says. The County’s “fantastic terroir”, along with other amenities like beaches made it “feel like a great home” for the family.

After opening Flame and Smith in 2019, the couple soon had to adapt to pandemic challenges, including changing menu items, and closing the indoor space. Hidde says they are now looking forward to inviting people into their Bloomfield dining room.

The place has a “wow factor” in-person says Hidde, with high ceilings, open to the rafters. “You can see and feel the fire wherever you are” he notes, referring to the wood burning ovens, that use local hardwoods to cook the meals.

Hidde also expects that the end of the health crisis, with more people coming out, along with the publicity of being featured on Big Food Bucket List, “will help” make a “great season”.

For her part, Chef Samantha notes that La Condessa has been closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic more than it’s been open.

She originally came to the County a few years ago, working at Parson’s Brewery, before getting a chance to start her own business in Wellington in 2020. She loves the town and the mix of old and new at her La Condessa location.

“It’s such a key place, close to the water, it checks all the boxes,” she says, also noting her appreciation of the County’s heritage.

The restaurant builds on the historical structural features inside “with a modern twist” including featuring a mural by a local artist and a pink colour scheme.

“I don’t remember the last time the room was full,” she says, noting she is looking forward to sharing her cooking in the bustle and ambiance of her Wellington location.

Valdivia was pleased to see the episode “all come together.” As she prepares for a busy spring season, she says she can “feel the momentum” for what she anticipates will be a “great year”.

Premiere night for season three of the Food Network show Big Food Bucket List is Saturday, April 2, and will feature two episodes at 8 and 8:30 p.m., one of which highlights La Condessa. The show’s episode featuring the Flame and Smith is to air on Saturday May 7, at 8 p.m.

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  1. Bruce Nicholson says:

    I am sure that your comment was not intended to be taken seriously Teena.
    Fast food restaurants serve an important and affordable option to those who cannot afford the County’s wonderful but pricey restaurants.

  2. Teena says:

    Now if we could just get rid of the fast food chains…

  3. angela says:

    Those fabulous restaurants are far from cheap. Not everyone can lend them support. There are some people who are struggling to pay their groceries bills and others who are relying on food banks!

  4. We are so fortunate to have such fabulous restaurants like these and so many more, located right here in PEC. The creativity and imagination of our local chefs is amazing. We should all try and lend them our support whenever possible, especially in the off and shoulder seasons.

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