Food and fiction come together in rural Cape Breton


A menu from Dancing Dinner Sprite. Photo by Karen.Jeane from Flickr, October 2011

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First aired on Information Morning Cape Breton (12/30/11)

If you ever plan to visit Middle River on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, be sure to stop by the Dancing River Sprite. If you do, you'll be in for a treat -- in more ways than one!

At the Dancing River Sprite, literature comes to life through food and performance. Throughout six courses, a beloved story or poem unfolds. The chosen story sets the theme for the month. For example, the December menu was based on the poem A Child's Christmas by Dylan Thomas.

Cora-Lee Smith was inspired to create this unique culinary experience after a stint in amateur dinner theatre. Dinner theatre "encompassed three things that I liked the best," she explained to CBC reporter Norma Jean MacPhee. "Writing, fashion and set design." But the dream didn't come together until she met her eventual husband and business partner: Dancing River Sprite's co-owner and chef George Smith.

George and Cora-Lee's creative process evolves with the seasons. The story is chosen to "suit the time of year," George explained. After that, they "look at the story and see if there is any food ingredients or actual meals in the story." If there is, it's simple. If there isn't (and there usually isn't), George researches the region and era the story takes place in and derives a historically, geographically and culturally accurate menu.

The inspiration may come from far and wide, but the ingredients always come from home.  "We look at what we can source from our own farm," George said. If they can't come up with the ingredients themselves, they turn to local businesses to supplement their ever-evolving menu. 

No two meals are exactly the same, as George likes to keep things fresh. "When you cook, there's always a story to what you're putting together," George said. "I'm not restricted to repetition."

The food, however, is only half the experience. Cora-Lee is responsible for the entertainment part of the evening. Cora-Lee enjoys "developing a character out of the book" and "writing the menus," which she "tries to write in the style in which the book is written."

The Dancing River Sprite brings together the many loves in Cora-Lee's and George's lives. But that's not why they enjoy what they do. From regulars who come once a month to travellers to stop in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Cora-Lee and George love bringing people into their world.

"Everyone to comes to our dinners is not a customer," George said. "By the second course, they're friends. That's what it's all about."

Watch the video below to learn a cooking technique perfected by George at the Dancing River Sprite.