The first thing you notice about celebrity chef and cookbook author Michael Smith is his height. This man is tall, and still teenage slim though nudging middle age. The second thing is the fire in his eyes. After all these years in the culinary circus, he is still passionate, still adventurous, still taking risks.
His latest adventure is the Inn at Bay Fortune, a 15-room inn built in 1913 he and wife Chastity bought and renovated, and its restaurant, FireWorks. The inn was also where he began his Canadian culinary career, with the televised cooking program, The Inn Chef, in the 1990s.
Now transformed into a welcoming accommodation with a coastal vibe, the Inn at Bay Fortune is the first property on Prince Edward Island to be awarded a five-star designation.
It’s a beautiful place to stay: tranquil, elegant, and laid-back. It’s the Hamptons, island style. But when an inn is owned by a famous chef, you come, primarily, for the food, and Smith’s nightly Feast at Fireworks is the biggest draw on the island.
The Feast at Fireworks is served family style at long communal butcher block tables on the veranda overlooking the ocean through summer. For Smith, the idea of a communal dining experience is central to his Feast concept. “People need to reconnect with the pleasures of sharing food together,” he says. “Our guests make instant friends with strangers, and by the end of the evening, everyone feels like they might be related and they’re exchanging email addresses.”
Each evening meal begins with a group toast to the generous abundance of the island—led by Smith if he is on site, standing under the flags of Canada and P.E.I. out on the inn’s lawn. Guests may mingle for a chatty happy hour, or they can tour the working parts of the property. Smith will proudly guide you around the gardens and greenhouses that provide the produce for the dining room. In a large outdoor pen far at the back are three small pigs. “One of the things that we have lost is the connection to our food and where it actually comes from,” says Smith. “These three pigs are part of that commitment. They have names, they eat like kings, and they will enjoy a lovely summer, with one bad day at the end.”
There are fresh oysters on ice at the bar, just harvested from Colville Bay and perfectly paired with a glass of chilled Benjamin Bridge bubbly. I’m given a lesson in shucking, and then get to taste the result: a perfect plump oyster topped with frozen Bloody Mary slurry—easily the best I have ever eaten. There is, of course, fresh local lobster and seafood chowder, as well as choice island specialties in the multi-course meal. Many of the ingredients came from the inn’s gardens just minutes before dinner or were foraged in places that Smith keeps to himself. “I know where the best wild mushrooms grow on the island, but I’m not telling,” he says. Tonight’s salad is a compilation of colourful ingredients, including edible flowers and “dirt” fashioned from seeds and nuts. It’s both beautiful and delicious.
Most of the dishes are cooked over the fire, in the 25-foot-long, brick-lined, wood-burning fireplace, by a team of energetic chefs, the Fire Brigade. Even the bread—aromatic and kissed with a faint smokiness—is hand-shaped and baked in the hearth.
The finale is a communal marshmallow roast around an outdoor fire pit, complete with real fireworks.
This is Smith’s campaign to reignite the love of dining together, to foster the appreciation of consuming carefully prepared locally sourced dishes, and to present personally curated meals that satisfy more than one appetite. It’s a brilliant concept, and a popular one—the Feast usually books up two months in advance.
And the pork dishes are exceptional.
Photos by Barbara Ramsay Orr.
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