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Chef Michael Smith on Canadian Cuisine and Becoming a True Culinary Destination

Consumers are looking for sustainable, local fare and that is something that will only increase as the country recovers from COVID-19. That connection to
local ingredients and the people who provide them is what makes Canadian cuisine one of the best in the world. – Chef michael smith

As a chef, my values are at the core of everything I do. It is what drew me to PEI after working in some of the best kitchens in the world. I was in search of something more meaningful in the culinary sphere, and I said at the time that I wanted to meet some farmers—even though I didn’t quite know what that meant.

My culinary career really came full circle in 2015 when my wife Chastity and I decided to take over The Inn at Bay Fortune, where I had worked for seven years in the 1990s. When we took the plunge, we had a vision for what we wanted to create—a culinary destination that showcased fresh, locally grown food and the best that PEI has to offer. We are now going into our seventh season and I believe that we have created something truly special; something that I wouldn’t have even imagined seven years ago.

The terroir that we have cultivated with the help of our talented farmer and dedicated team produces some of the best food around, which elevates everything we do in the kitchen. Our farm is at the heart of The Inn at Bay Fortune and that true connection with the land is something that I am proud to provide our employees and pass on to our guests.

There is no doubt that this past year has been extremely difficult for the restaurant and hospitality industry. When the pandemic first hit early last year, our operations skidded to a halt. I knew that we had to make some hard decisions to not only keep our business afloat but also protect our staff, the world. All we have to do is wave our flag a bit higher to make the world see how truly special we are as a culinary destination.

At its core, this industry is about people. It’s about the producers and farmers, the chefs and wait staff. It’s about our guests who come to us to escape and enjoy a great meal. That is something that will be even more important as we recover from the pandemic. That connection is so valuable, and placing an emphasis on all the people who play a role in the industry is something that is not only going to help us in recovery from the pandemic, but make us stronger. Let’s stay true to our values and let them guide us in building a progressive and united industry that will establish us as a true culinary destination on the world stage.

There is no doubt that this past year has been extremely difficult for the restaurant and hospitality industry. When the pandemic first hit early last year, our operations skidded to a halt. I knew that we had to make some hard decisions to not only keep our business afloat but also protect our staff, which was the number one priority. I knew that in order to survive we had to go back to our core values; that DNA of innovation and creativity that has been key to our success over the past six seasons.

Although the pandemic has been devastating, I believe it is also an opportunity to really look at innovation and creativity throughout the industry. If we don’t learn some giant societal lessons from this experience, we have failed. This pandemic has shed a light on our industry and consumers are starting to pay attention to the reality of how restaurant employees are treated, paid, and respected. I feel very passionate about the need to improve the way we pay and treat our employees, which has our antiquated gratuity system at the crux of the problem. This time of pause and reflection is a real opportunity for more establishments to figure out how they can implement a gratuity-included system.

We, as an entire industry, need to find a way to pay our staff appropriately, and, in turn, pass those costs on fairly to our guests. In the end, it is about respect for Canadians, both consumers and those within the hospitality industry. As a Canadian by choice, I know firsthand what this country has to offer in terms of top-notch cuisine. One of the benefits of the pandemic has been an increased focus on “local” which has been an emerging trend in the industry for the past few years. Consumers are looking for sustainable, local fare and that is something that will only increase as the country recovers from COVID-19. That connection to local ingredients and the people who provide them is what makes Canadian cuisine one of the best in the world. All we have to do is wave our flag a bit higher to make the world see how truly special we are as a culinary destination.

At its core, this industry is about people. It’s about the producers and farmers, the chefs and wait staff. It’s about our guests who come to us to escape and enjoy a great meal. That is something that will be even more important as we recover from the pandemic. That connection is so valuable, and placing an emphasis on all the people who play a role in the industry is something that is not only going to help us in recovery from the pandemic, but make us stronger. Let’s stay true to our values and let them guide us in building a progressive and united industry that will establish us as a true culinary destination on the world stage.

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