Imagine indulging on food from an open flame, the smell of smoked fish and wood-roasted meats permeating the air, beckoning your palette. Fireworks at The Inn at Bay Fortune, Prince Edward Island, is where Chef Michael Smith makes the culinary magic happen. Smith, who originally hails from NYC, has called the Island home since the nineties. The bucolic landscape, the abundance of organic homegrown produce, and Smith’s support for local farmers and fisherman is evident in what he has cultivated at Fireworks. Travel Maritimes chats with Chef Smith on his passion for cooking “in his own backyard”.
NA: What was the impetus behind starting up Feast at the Inn at Bay Fortune?
Chef Michael Smith: The first was when we bought the property. In essence it was bankrupt, so we knew it needed a dramatic reboot. We knew from day one that I had no interest in doing the touchy, feely, fine dining that had defined this property for thirty years.
We did it back in the nineties; I started it – chef-tasting menus, seven course menus – all that sort of thing. I had no interest in doing that whatsoever both because it didn’t work and the place was bankrupt. It really led me to authenticity. That’s all this is; we’re out in the countryside and most of my fire cooking happens outdoors. The entire project flowed from that.
When we took a look at what we could do, what we wanted to do, and what we needed to do, the guiding principle all through it was, “Let’s just do what we do at home.” I had been out of the restaurants for fifteen years when we bought it three years ago, but that doesn’t mean I stopped cooking for fifteen years. In fact I grew up as a cook, as a father, as a man, as a guy, as a neighbour.
So much of my love and passion is for simple cooking in my own backyard. Build a fire, let the coals die down and start grilling. Our friends gather around, the party is always in the kitchen. It’s simple, straightforward, real food.
NA: Tell us a bit about the Fireworks experience?
Chef Michael Smith: What defines the Fireworks is first, that being a farm, we grow everything we serve. Secondly, it’s all live fire, and third we share this experience. We sit at communal feast tables and we wander around outside for a full hour before we sit down for dinner. We are out on the land, in the woods, on the farm. We have food stations everywhere and new food stations this year. We are constantly adding fire stations to the mix.
We have 48 acres; our certified organic farm is eight of that. We have a good balance between our eight acres and our 64 guests and our 144 nights a year service. I am proud of the relationships we have built with our farmers and the way the cooks get to connect with that too. The cooks are engaged in the harvest. The aspect that I think is the single most defining thing in the shared experience. The communal feast tables, shoulder to shoulder with strangers and watching what happens each and every night. People come out of themselves and relax and enjoy the experience in a way that you just don’t when it’s only two of you at a table.
We evolve the menu every day. It’s an interesting hybrid of a few things that never change, and a few things that are just simple farmhouse cooking as I like to call it, and at least two places where we’re trying to be really creative. What I mean by that is if you look at “The Feast”, it is divided into two sections: the first is oyster hour where we are outside enjoying the sun and the grounds.
During oyster hour we can be particularly provocative with what we do. For instance, we have our pork alter and even though we call it the pork alter we will do things like duck or pheasant and quail – all island meats – 100%. Once we sit down inside I am not going to serve you lamb because you don’t have a choice. I know that half the room isn’t going to like lamb. So instead at the meat course we do a rotation of beef, pork, chicken over and over.
We always do duos, so we showoff something from the smokehouse and something from the grill. It might be a six-hour slow roast pork belly with seared pork loin. When you first sit down for the meal you will see our bread; it’s the same everyday, it never changes. Locally sourced, heritage grains grown on the island for hundreds of years.
Then we do a chowder, of course. Real fish broth, full of fish. Our salad course represents every aspect of the farm. I have set a goal for myself to serve the world’s best salad. Last year we had eighty-two ingredients in our salads. That’s just the start. It’s how we present it and the ceremony that goes with the salad. At heart it’s still just impeccable sourced grains from our farm with a dressing on it.
We really push the boundaries of what can we do here. We never do chocolate in our desserts; they are always 100% island fruit-based. We do chocolate later, after the meal is over and our guests are invited to the campfire out front. They have watched this campfire raging away through the meal at the end of the meal they are invited to sit around the campfire and have some marshmallows with a bit of chocolate sauce. We are straight-up farmhouse cooking, but also really creative.
NA: Anything new we can look forward to in 2017?
Chef Michael Smith: The big news is we are adding a dining room, but we are not adding seats. We’re staying at our 64 seats; we are just making them roomier. We also start construction September 1st on a new high-end modern farmhouse, the Farmhouse at Bay Fortune.
Click here to visit the Inn at Bay Fortune online here for details on the 2017 Feast and accommodations.