Report by Anna Hobbs
Celebrity chef Michael Smith is a passionate advocate for simple, sustainable home cooking and an inspiration for families creating their own healthy food lifestyle. The host of award-winning cooking shows seen on Food Network Canada and in more than 100 other countries, Smith has travelled the world chasing simple, authentic local food.
While a true chef at large, his favourite role is Dad, at home with his wife, Chastity, and his children, Gabe, Ariella and Camille. Today, the couple are the proprietors of the five-star Inn at Bay Fortune on Prince Edward Island, where Smith indulges his passion for cooking over flames at The Feast at Fire Works.
Vacay.ca: You were born and raised in the US and you went to culinary school there before moving – the first time – to PEI. Why PEI?
Michael Smith: When I was fresh out of school I was consumed by travel. I had already cooked in New York and in Europe but I was fascinated by the idea of this little island in the north Atlantic where I could plant a garden and meet farmers. At 24, I had no idea what this really meant.
Vacay.ca: You launched your career here in 1991, then left to pursue many television projects and write10 cookbooks. You came full circle, returning in 2015, with a menu full of ideas. What brought you back?
Smith: The island always felt like home. I wanted to be part of a community with friendly, approachable neighbours who also had a passion for food. And there was an opportunity to buy the Inn.
Vacay.ca: From May to October, you are totally immersed as an innkeeper and hands-on chef. Does this mean that family trips are confined to November to April?
Smith: Absolutely. We plan a trip every April. We look for a place where we can rent a house and cook for ourselves. One of our favourites is Croatia where we have family. Our perfect house is big, within walking distance of the ocean with a large garden. It’s a place for garden-fresh food and incredible wine that never leaves the country.
Vacay.ca: How does travel influence your life and work?
Smith: Travel is how I recharge my batteries as a chef. I have been inspired countless times around the world by the utter simplicity of cuisine in its natural setting. At home those experiences inspire creative confidence and remind me of Canada’s unique cuisines.
Vacay.ca: How do you eat healthy on the road?
Smith: It’s a big challenge. You have to do it yourself. I make it happen by eating a ton of fruit. I love eating in a great restaurant but you can’t do that three times a day for four days. Fruit is my go to food on the road.
Vacay.ca: You are an avid map collector. What’s the fascination?
Smith: I’m not sure, but I have easily 100 old Canadian maps. Some of them are like pieces of artwork and they cover the walls of my office. I also collect them from everywhere I go in the world. Some inspire me to travel – like the map of Tasmania did.
Vacay.ca: At 6-foot-7, you’ve been dubbed Canada’s tallest chef. How do you cope with airline seats?
Smith: It’s not so bad if you can sit up front.
Vacay.ca: Who would you most like to sit next to on a flight?
Smith: My wife. Our next trip is to Montreal – just to have a break together. It’s a quick and easy flight from PEI and we’ll be looking for restaurants that are doing things similar to what we are. Any wood-fired and Canadian cuisine always interests me.
Vacay.ca: What other parts of Canada do you enjoy?
Smith: I’m drawn to rural regions that share the island’s culinary diversity. I’ve visited many corners of the country and been inspired by the growing sense of a national culinary identity. I’ve found from coast to coast to coast. Hot tip? The Annapolis and Gaspereaux Valleys in Nova Scotia have one of the most cutting-edge wine scenes on the continent.
Vacay.ca: What do you most look forward to when returning home from a trip?
Smith: This may seem strange when you consider my work is cooking, but I most look forward to cooking a family dinner and sitting down at the table with Chastity and our children.
MORE CELEBRITY CHEFS