The sun is setting over Louisbourg Harbour, and I am standing in the doorway of a French colonial home waiting for a drum and fife band dressed in traditional red coats and white breeches to pass while watching a woman in a rocker making lace by hand. All around me in this walled city with canon-lined ramparts are historic buildings: storehouses, stables, an armory and forge and officers' residences. I am at Fortress Louisbourg, a sprawling 18th-century fort complex on Nova Scotia's impossibly scenic Cape Breton Island and I've seemingly stepped back in time -- at least for the evening.
The fort, built by the French in the 1740s and under English rule by 1760, is now a National Historic Site of Canada and a living museum (hence the costumed actors). Tonight it's being used for something different altogether: the venue for finale dinner of the first annual Right Some Good Festival, a 10-day foodie adventure in which international chefs prepare and serve gourmet meals in one-of-kind and historically rich venues across the island.
Myself and the other lucky diners, including tour guide extraordinaire Peter Steele who's been showing me around Cape Breton, settled into our long wooden tables spread among five historic homes to savor Nova Scotia monkfish carpaccio with a citrus vinaigrette and Mira Bay lobster with seasonal baby vegetables by candlelight. (None of the historic homes have electricity.) Afterward, we followed a lantern-lined path for a performance of Canadian musician Bruce Guthro in the nearby chapel. It was truly a magical and memorable evening.
Right Some Good is the brainchild of Montreal-born Pearleen Mofford, founder of Rapport Communications, an advertising and event management company, who spent summers at her family's Cape Breton hotel and wanted to develop an idea to bring more visitors to the island.
"The festival showcases the beautiful landscapes as well as Cape Breton's abundant natural ingredients. We used produce, seafood and meat from local farmers, fisherman and ranchers," Mofford says. "And some of the festival venues have not been used for private events of this scale before."
She also thought to bring in international chefs, including Michelin-starred Christopher Coutanceau from France, Hong Kong's Alvin Leung, Spain's Miguel Angel Millian and Food Network personality Jill Davie from the U.S. as well as local Cape Breton chefs.
"We wanted a collaborative environment where the best chefs in the world could work with local chefs so each could share knowledge and skills," Mofford says.
And all dinners during Right Some Good -- a colloquial phrase that means outstanding -- conclude with some form of entertainment, perhaps a singer-songwriter or a toe-tapping Celtic-style band.
My first dinner took place at the Cape Breton Miners' Museum -- the island was a large coal producer up until the 1980s -- where I sampled French chef Serge Knapp's seafood aioli with a bouillabaisse emulsion and tenderloin with oxtail and chanterelle-stuffed baked potatoes along with Nova Scotian wines from the Annapolis Valley. Other venues included the Victorian-era Orangedale Train Station, the Great Hall of the Clans at Gaelic College and the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion in the capital of Sydney.
It not only gave me a great opportunity to see a large portion of the island -- which at approximately 4,000 square miles is much larger than I had imagined -- but to meet the Cape Bretoners as well. One twenty-something couple, self professed foodies, mentioned that they planned on attending all 10 dinners, while another couple from the Acadian village of Cheticamp recommended a traditional Acadian restaurant for lunch.
All of the Right Some Good events took place in the evening, so I had my days free to sightsee. My guide Peter showed me around the charming seaside resort town of Braddeck where Alexander Graham Bell lived and worked, as well as Glenora Distillery, Canada's only single-malt whiskey distillery, which also has a fine restaurant with outdoor seating. Of course, I also visited the island's must-see attraction, the world-famous Cabot Trail, a scenic driving loop around the top of the island through Cape Breton Highlands National Park where sharp eyes might spot whales in the St. Lawrence Bay or moose on the side of the road.
Being that this was the first time the festival was being held, I was very impressed with this moveable feast. (I couldn't even imagine the logistics of getting the food, wine, mobile commercial kitchen and wait staffs all around the island!) It was quite a hit with islanders. I feasted on dishes ranging from lobster ragout and rhubarb-glazed pork loin to something I hadn't yet tried -- Novia Scotia sea cucumber -- along with some fabulous desserts, like roasted white peaches with a pistachio compote.
Mofford is already planning next year's festival.
"We want to create a different experience each time, so we we'll have new chefs, new ingredients and new locations."
If I may make one humble suggestion? Keep the finale dinner at the Fortress Louisbourg.
For more information on Cape Breton Island visit www.novascotia.com. To book tour guide Peter Steele of Peter Steele Tours call 902-539-4627 or email email@example.com.