[This article was first published on Vacay.ca on January 10, 2013 and then syndicated on the Huffington Post Canada.]
HUNTSVILLE, ONTARIO — Michael Smith told me he has built a career out of reminding Canadians that cooking is about the people you share the meal with rather than the perfection of the recipe. He then went about showing what he meant.
In a wildly entertaining weekend at Deerhurst Resort, Smith held court and kitchen in the Muskoka property most famous for hosting Barack Obama, Stephen Harper and the rest of the G8 leaders during their 2010 summit. Smith didn’t have the security detail of those politicians, although he could have used one given the fact his contingent of female fans have a voracious appetite for him as well as his food. Clearly enjoying the attention, Smith hugged, kissed and signed autographs of his latest cookbook, Fast Flavours — 110 Simple Speedy Recipes, for the roughly 200 people who showed up to be in the presence of Canada’s most famous chef.
Standing 6-foot-7, Smith came across as a gentle and affable giant with a great deal of admiration for his adopted country. He was the head of food operations in the Athletes’ Village at the 2010 Winter Olympicsin Vancouver, turning out up to 12,000 plates a day for the competitors and delegates in a role he called the highlight of his career. Currently the only chef on the Food Network Canada with an instructional cooking program, “Chef Michael’s Kitchen,” Smith has lived in Prince Edward Island since immigrating from New York more than 20 years ago. He elevated the Inn at Bay Fortune on PEI to recognition as one of the nation’s finest restaurants before his cookbooks and television shows took off, rocketing him to stardom.
“I miss some aspects about being a chef in a restaurant, but I don’t miss the hours or the lifestyle,” Smith said, reiterating that he has no plans to open an eatery.
What he has been doing is travelling the world, discovering eclectic ingredients and different cooking techniques, and incorporating some of them into his recipes that are designed to be easy to make. By simplifying recipes and the approach to cooking, Smith has underscored that the process isn’t about the food, but those who you invite to the table.
At Deerhurst in October, Smith kept his guests enthralled with an interactive dinner that included everyone at each table performing one duty or another in the preparation of the feast. One person was instructed on a salad dressing, another mixed a cocktail using gin from PEI, others used Playdough to create decorations. Deerhurst’s talented executive chef Rory Golden and his staff worked with Smith on creating several recipes from the cookbook. The main course was prime rib, a giant slab of which was set on each table and sliced up Thanksgiving style by a member of the dinner party.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Smith or the weekend and was surprised by the inventiveness of the evening. Far, far from a formal affair, it was jovial and communal, which is what the chef wants to see more of in Canadian homes.
“I think the biggest mistake home cooks make is believing that there is such a thing as perfection,” he said. “I really believe that success is when we decide to cook and sit down with our families.”