(Pete Luckett gives us a special ILQ shoutout!)
By Ashlee Starratt
With transcribed files by Abdullah Amir
There are two things to know about Pete Luckett: you’ll hear his laugh coming long before you see him, and – nine times out of ten – if there’s a red phone-box to be found, he’ll find it. Even here in the desert.
As Canada’s preeminent green-grocer, Luckett brought his farm-to-table ethos to Canadians across the country through national television appearances, cooking demonstrations, a Food Network culinary travel series, and specialty boutique grocery stores across Canada’s east coast, showcasing local agricultural producers. A larger-than-life, award-winning media personality, food author, and bona-fide culinary fruit and vegetable expert, Luckett’s passion for produce, coupled with his educational influence, generated a shift towards sustainability as consumers across Canada’s eastern Maritime provinces began to buy – and eat – local.
Growing up in Nottingham, England, before emigrating to Canada in 1979, Luckett spent his formative years running the ropes as a fruit-and-veg stall vendor at Nottingham’s Victoria Market – honing the techniques of his trade that would lead to the future success of his Pete’s Fine Foods grocery chain. Luckett opened his first Pete’s Frootique grocery store in 1981 in the province of New Brunswick’s Saint John City Market. This was followed by locations in Moncton and, in the province of Nova Scotia, outlets in Halifax, Wolfville, and Bedford.
The flagship store in Bedford’s Sunnyside Mall was also the largest, housing a European deli, power juice bar, a gourmet fruit and gift basket shop, a gourmet butcher and fish shop, and a British speciality food emporium called the Best of Britain. Two years ago in 2015, Luckett announced that he had entered into an agreement with Canadian grocery retail giant Sobey’s to purchase Pete’s Fine Foods, and he would be focussing his entrepreneurial energies on his Luckett Vineyards and restaurant in Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley.
A world traveller and foodie, Luckett draws culinary inspiration from his many ports of call. An avid motorcycle enthusiast and former racer, he was recently in Qatar to visit friends and take in the 2017 MotoGP Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit. ILQ caught up with the friendly green-grocer to find out what he thinks of the foodie scene in Qatar ahead of the 8th Qatar International Food Festival.
ILQ: So, we hear this isn’t your first visit to Qatar?
PL: You’re right – I was out here eight years ago! It was a company called RasGas who had hired me as a motivational speaker for their employees. But this time I’m here for the MotoGP! I’m a motorcycle fan and ex-racer myself.
ILQ: Have you had a chance to explore Qatari cuisine on this trip – or any of Doha’s little hidden gems?
PL: To be truthful – not really! But we’ve had lots of little nibbles along the way. We had a lovely rice dish [bukhari] with goat meat at a little restaurant we found. My gosh they were busy! We had a big plate of goat meat each, with lots of rice and a little salad on the side and lots of pita bread – it was amazing!
We did also have a meal at Turkey Central just a few nights ago – and that was absolutely top-notch! Turkey Central was a great bang for your buck – a stomping deal. We were also out at the race-track and hit up the cafeteria, which was a big spread. We had a special paddock pass [for the MotoGP] and we had another friend who joined us and he’s a big motorcycle fan who’s got the inner route to the inner sanctum of the paddock area and all the reserved areas, so we went in this restaurant out at the track and scoffed a lovely local meal – a little chicken masala.
ILQ: You’ve travelled the world on your Food Network series, The Food Hunter. Is there anything about the culinary aspects of Qatari culture that’s inspired or surprised you?
PL: The world is such an incredible melting pot – and in Nova Scotia [his home province], we have a very large ethnic population of Lebanese, so most of the food I’ve seen here [in Qatar] I’ve already had – baba ganoush, tabbouleh, hummus. So these flavours have been part of life [back home] with a Middle Eastern population. But it’s top-quality that you have here, and the service [in restaurants] is very, very lovely. As you know, a lot of it comes from the Indians and the Filipinos – they’re great service people as they really make you feel special and welcome.
In terms of products, wherever I go I always look for new products that I can use and take back home. I was in Spain a few years ago and this very special olive that was unique [to the region] – and now I import that olive by the container-load, and I have the exclusive rights across Canada [as a distributor] for this little olive that I just found by accident…
Then, just this January, I was in Argentina and I found these lovely kumquats in this syrup…and I was just in awe at the flavour. I did a bit of a tentative deal with the guy who was selling them, so when I get back [to Canada] I’m going to look at importing these kumquats. So, I always look for something that’s a little special, unusual, or different – and I can’t help myself wherever I go I’m always looking.
[Here in Qatar] one thing that I didn’t know about which I came across [in Souq Waqif], are these little dried balls – about a bit smaller than a golf ball. They were black and piled up everywhere in this shop. I found out they were dried lemons! So they turn black when they oxidize – but the flavour is still there so you can throw them into a pot. I’ve not cooked with them yet, but since I saw them at the Souq I thought ‘Hmmm…that’s interesting to me’ – so that was a first!
ILQ: You’ve come all the way to Qatar, so we have to ask – have you tried camel meat?
PL: No! Although we had a debate about where to go for camel meat. The only problem with the camel meat was that it came in a huge platter for like QR 300 – it was way to much for us…so we just went with the goat.
We went out for a nice meal at the [L’wzaar] fish market in Katara where you select your fish at this big retail counter and they go out back and cook it for you. I wanted to try some local fish so I tried the hammour – it’s lovely. Silky, soft, and great.
ILQ: As one of Canada’s leading promoters of sustainable local agriculture, what advice do you have for Qatar – a desert climate – as it tries to reduce its own reliance on imported food products.
PL: I don’t know if ‘technique’ is the right word…but it’s a great business approach to enter the world of agriculture. For me, my approach is to look at the end user first; study the market. What does the market want? What is the end user looking for? What sort of price range do you need to be in to stay competitive? And, as a producer, how do you enter the market? Whether it be selling to a farmer’s market – or sell it to a supermarket distributor such as Lulu.
Find the distribution chain, figure out how to get into it, and then back-up from there. A lot of farmers tend to grow stuff and then think ‘What do I do with it? Where do I sell it?’ I have a great belief in working back from the consumer to figure out how the supply chain operates, and then build a business plan by working backwards.
ILQ: Would you ever consider bringing the Luckett brand to Qatar?
PL: Well, the Luckett brand these days is my [vineyard] – and I don’t think a [vineyard] brand will go down great here. [Laughs].
As far as my food business goes…well I’ve been immersed in it for the past 43 years, but now I’m out of the [retail side] of things. I had a great run…it allowed me to make a living for myself and my family, and do a lot of stuff that was an incredible experience. People ask me ‘Pete do you miss the food business?’ And I say ‘Not a bit’. It was great to be in, but it’s great to be out of…and now I’m immersed in my [vineyard].
As we continue to grow and develop, we’re planting more grapes and buying more land; we’re also building a new production facility. It’s a new growth we’re experiencing, so that’s consuming my life really… But I still have this crazy travel bug that I can’t help myself from travelling around the globe – because that’s what turns my crank.
So to here [to Qatar] to see friends was pretty fantastic. I’ve learned a lot. When I was in Qatar before, I was in and out – I really only had a glimpse of life here. It was only this [trip] and staying with my friends that I have really understood what goes on and how life [in Qatar] works – it’s been very, very interesting.
What do you think of the calibre of celebrity chefs and foodie personalities that have been visiting Qatar lately? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below and tell us if you’ve managed to stop by the Qatar International Food Festival, running until April 8 at Hotel Park. Also, don’t forget to give us a like and a share – it keeps us going!
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