From Feast to Feast with Chef Michael Smith’s Inspired Vision
Fortune’s good news has spread to Charlottetown: The Inn at Fortune Bay has a latest addition: a fire kitchen that Michael Smith calls FireWorks. Chef Michael and his wife, Chastity Smith, took ownership of the Inn this spring, a place where Michael has been teaching, cooking, roasting, steaming and percolating for over twenty years.
In honor of our ninth wedding anniversary, my husband and I planned a little séjour up to the Inn at Bay Fortune to do some exploring, garden wandering, and of course, eating! What better way to celebrate than with a Fortune Feast?
Chef Michael’s legacy has long preceded him, from his cooking shows on the Food Network to his collection of highly popular cookbook series. Chastity tells me of the rise of the farm to table movement, and for husband Chef Michael, how “Coming to Prince Edward Island was like coming home.” Although Smith hails from New York City, he considers himself an ambassador to PEI.
Sous Chef Justin is stoking the coals when we head up to the lodge for dinner.
What’s on the grill for tonight? Flank steak. With the FireWorks kitchen still under construction inside, Smith has constructed an outdoor cook area, including one long fire grill, a smoker, and a rotisserie. Surrounded by lobster traps and on the Inn’s front lawn overlooking Fortune Bay, no sight could be more inviting!
A blueberry fizz cocktail or two and I’m shucking Coleville Bay Oysters in the All-You-Can-Slurp oyster kitchen with Chefs Hunter and Naresh, gregariously bragging about my own shucking skills. When they turn the tables and have me shuck my own, the result is thoroughly embarrassing. Take my advice — don’t try to shuck the shucker!
Part of the Inn’s new appeal is its “feast style” dining, where one long communal table is presented and guests are encouraged to meet and dine with other visitors. Chastity says this encourages people to get to know one another, and to build relationships. This has been an important part of the bringing together of people and food. “We are literally breaking bread together,” Chastity says.
The Smith family has long appreciated their community here in Fortune, and Chastity cannot help but be grateful for all the good Fortune that Fortune has offered them. “We have a beautiful collective here — a community of friends, farmers and fishers, artists and musicians. It was the perfect place to implement our vision.”
The new vision is what Chef Michael and Chastity are building. We scoot behind plastic, over cedar shingles and scaffolding to meet the man behind these ovens, Red Clay Construction owner, John Rousseau. Chastity tells me Michael’s inspiration has long included fire, and they felt that FireWorks would be something unique not only for the island, but for the country.
Getting down to the business and construction of these ovens is thrilling. The smokehouse is a top to bottom event, which Rousseau describes as “lazy, slow channels of heat”. The hearth in the middle is about eight feet long, perfect for grilling, spit roasting and baking, and the full brick oven on the right will cook breads and pizzas anywhere from 400-900 degrees.
When the oyster shucking is through, we are seated and the meal begins. Course after course are brought out by the chefs and explained in full technicolor detail. Much of the food is grown on the property and local suppliers of beef, pork and seafood are used to bring in the rest.
In each bite I can taste the freshness! From Red Fife Whole Wheat & Oatmeal Bread, through Charcuterie Boards and Kettle Chowders, I wonder where I’ll make room for the next course. Dainty flowery salads homegrown, Char Grilled Island Hanger Steak with chimichurri cooked to perfection and crushed fingerling potatoes disappear, along with counterparts maple glazed turnips and charred broccoli and asparagus.
Luke Clark is the head chef here hailing from Margaret River, Western Australia, four hours south of Perth. After the hanger steak he mingles with the guests. I asked him how in the world he ever found Prince Edward Island.
He relays his journey to Fortune like this: “I wanted to get a little garden, get a little smoker, and start my own thing and that’s when Michael called and said Man, we’re doing it here.”
Chastity regales me with her future plans for the Inn. As Head Decorator, she will be bringing the Resort from 4 Star this year to 5 Star next year, and eventually wants to include cottages on the property as well.
As my husband checks out in the Inn’s new cathedral lobby, two small blond beauties, 7 and 3, chase a tired helium balloon between a couch and a coffee table. They are shy with me but when I disclose my own love of balloons, they open up. I ask them if they’re checking in for the weekend, and whether or not they’ve travelled far. Their pictures grace the covers of Michael’s cookbooks. “No,” they giggle, “Our mommy works here,” one says. “Our daddy, too.”
So my last question to Chastity is what Mom and Kids favorite recipes of Dad’s are. Chastity’s eyes widen, and she exclaims, “Caesar Salad!”, (from Chef At Home) and for the Kids – General Tao’s chicken wings from Family Meals. Well, that takes care of Saturday night!
8th Annual Souris Village Feast
While the Inn prepares for the FireWorks, just up the road in Souris there is another Feast a-brewing. This is the eighth year for The Village Feast, a non-profit children’s charity associated with Prince Edward Island’s own Farmers Helping Farmers. I cruised up the road to have a chat with Pat O’Connor, the Chair of the Village Feast, who sits on the board alongside Allan MacPhee and —you guessed it—PEI’s own Chef Michael Smith.
Each year the Feast raises enough money to build a cookhouse in Kenya, in partnership with Farmers Helping Farmers. These cook ovens are not unlike the ones that Chef Michael’s FireWorks concept will present — the focus is on slow, retained heat.
“The cookhouses are built at the schools, which keeps the kids going,” O’Connor says, “This is a positive thing for the community, especially for the girls, who tend to drop out of school earlier.”
The Village Feast is accomplished by pulling together teams from MacPhee’s Market in Souris, Canadian Forces from CBF Gagetown, and of course, the Village Feast volunteer Board which works tirelessly to sell tickets and organize the Feast’s over one hundred volunteers.
For the past two years, the Feast has included Atlantic Beef Steaks (cooked on a outdoor grill) and lobsters, offered up and served straight off the boat by fishers of PEI’s eastern shores. Rollo Bay Holdings potatoes, and MacKenzie Farms fresh salad are also included. Speerville Flour Mill has milled all the Red Fife wheat to make the bread, which is an Island grain grown right here at home. Coleville Bay Oysters and Upstreet Craft Beer will also be for sale. The farm to table tradition is certainly strong out here in Prince Edward Island. To top things off will be Chef Michael’s own Strawberry-Rhubard on a Nutmeg Cream Biscuit. What a starring lineup!
And “Don’t forget the chowder,” O’Connor says, “The lobster tails are just falling out of the bowl.”