Just prior to the PEI International Shellfish Festival, Salty was able to get a few moments of Chef Michael Smith’s time and asked him a few questions.

Salty: You’ve just finished Beef and Blues with Fall Flavours, you’ve got two days before the shellfish festival kicks off and Feast and Frolic, and of course you’ve got Fireworks and the Inn at Bay Fortune. You’re pretty busy, how do you balance all of that, as a chef, as a husband, a dad?

MS: Well, that is certainly life’s great question, isn’t it? You know, for us, it’s called winter, oddly. We speak of it often, we feel very blessed that we can do what we do. Go so hard, do such amazing things, but not be forced to do it year-round. So that first and foremost is the sort of odd way to balance in our life, where we’re far, far less busy in the winter time. And that’s when the girls are in school, and the kids are focused on school, sort of traditional family things, and it works for us…Even all through the busy season, everybody knows that I am just not here [at Fireworks] on Sundays.

Salty: So you take that one day a week?

MS: At least that one full day. It’s family day for us. We pile up the devices in the morning and just leave them alone all day and have a day.
Salty: You’ve got the Shellfish Festival coming up, co-hosting, and obviously you have done that for a number of years. What’s your favourite part of the Shellfish Festival?

MS: Oysters! Lots and lots and lots of oysters. You know what else is super-fun? It’s just welcoming the world to the Island and watching how validating that is for all the hard-working folks in the Island fisheries. It really is a strong reminder every year that [they’re] valued, this is a big deal. We really are one of the world’s leading destinations for seafood, and it’s great for that big pat on the back.

Salty: Sometimes as a small Island we tend not to tout our assets. You’ve chosen to make PEI your home, what was it about PEI that made you say, “this is where I want to be, this is where I want to stay”?

MS: I think when I when I first moved here, it felt to me like I had moved home. My values are here. Community. I sort of grew up, you know, as a man here, as a neighbour, and a husband, and a father, and all those things. I guess, what initially drew me obviously was just the sheer magnificence of being a cook here. I mean, 30 years ago, you had to look a little harder, you know, you had to drive a little further to find these products. But they were there. And all of that was the initial attraction, what a wonderful place to flourish as a cook and a craftsman. But really, underlying that, quickly becoming apparent to me, was the community of people that made that food but also that became my community. So I sorta found my home.

Salty: On the food side of things we have such a wealth…

MS: And it’s only gotten stronger in recent years, it just continues to grow and impress.

Salty: With Salty we get the chance to talk to many producers, farmers, and fishers. There does seem to be great traction right now with our food and how it’s being promoted. Where do you see PEI in the next five to 10 years, as far as that goes? What would you like to see?

MS: I see no reason to think that the growth we’re seeing isn’t going to continue, you know, because the underlying issue here is authenticity. We are a place of food, that’s what we were what we are, and always have been, and that now is, is just magnificent, what a wonderful place to be. From the perspective of tourism and marketing,…that’s just going to continue strengthening, because we’re coming from a place of authenticity, and our land and sea, it’s just so productive. So I think it’s just going to continue, we’re becoming known as a place not just of great food, but a place of immersive food. I think you’re going to see more of that.

Salty: In the last year there’s been a lot of conversations about the restaurant industry and the mental health of those who are involved in the restaurant world. Do you have any advice for new chefs?

MS: I think young chefs should seek out positive kitchen cultures. I’ve seen kitchen culture change and evolve tremendously in the last 20, 30 years, and I think that needs reinforcing. And so, as a young chef, if you find yourself in a kitchen culture that’s not empowering, where you’re not acknowledged and respected, then I think you should move on. And that’s just the way it is. And I think you should look for that, and set that bar for yourself and know that you’re at a place where you know you have to work hard, but at the same time, where you’re not being demeaned, or disrespected as part of your culture. Beyond that, I think as well, we, as managers and chefs, are more open and more understanding of the underlying issues…but not everyone…there’s still a need, to continue focusing and improving as an industry.

Salty: That’s probably good advice for any job.

MS: They don’t deserve your time if you’re not respected. They simply don’t deserve your time. I think the ethics of it are wrong. I think you have a responsibility to yourself to move on. I don’t think you should give up yourself to a place like that. I don’t think they deserve you.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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