Under the apron with Chef Michael Smith

Under the apron with Chef Michael Smith

Author: Canadian Living


Under the apron with Chef Michael Smith

Renowned Food Network star and best-selling cookbook author, Chef Michael Smith is also North America's first food ambassador. As the food ambassador to Prince Edward Island, Chef Michael Smith is dedicated to promoting the island as a foodie destination and raising awareness of Island-produced food. Smith's recipes are greatly influenced by local products; he loves making food personal by knowing where it came from and the people who produced it.

Here, Michael Smith tells CanadianLiving.com about his guilty food pleasures, the first restaurant he worked in and much more!

CanadianLiving.com: Canadian Living catches you checking out at the grocery store at 5 pm -- what's in your basket?
Chef Michael Smith: When I go to the grocery store, my focus is getting as many different colours in my grocery cart as I can. It can be that simple. It clearly focuses on the fruits and vegetables and very often we're sort of led to believe that this is difficult. All the stuff you have to think about, which one should I eat, which one's healthy? But if you're making sure to get every single colour of the rainbow into your grocery cart you're making a very healthy decision.

CL.com: It’s late at night and you're heading home. Where do you stop for a midnight nosh, or what do you cook up when you get home?
MS: Well I live in the countryside so I'm not coming home past restaurants or anything like that. But last week my wife and I were watching a movie and one of the things we like to do is break at the one-hour mark to go get a snack. I took a watermelon, chunked it up, tossed it with really good olive oil, salt and pepper and we chowed down on that. It's one of our favourite snacks. (Try Canadian Living's Watermelon with White Balsamic recipe here.)

CL.com: What's your "closet" food indulgence - that embarrassing thing you wouldn't want your foodie friends to know you eat?
MS: You know what? I love French fries. I like them crispy and deep fried and soaked in fat, tasty and no good for you – but not McDonalds.

CL.com: What's one ingredient you use all the time and we might not know about - but should?  
MS: The ingredients that I tend to rely on most are the ingredients from around me. As a cook on Prince Edward Island it's very important to me that I use the ingredients of Prince Edward Island. Everything that we cook in the kitchen there's always something from our farm, a friend's farm, from a local farm or from somebody who we know that's producing food. So those tend to be the core of how we cook.

CL.com: The first restaurant you worked in - how old were you and what did you do?  
MS: I was in college, I would have been 18 years old and I was a dishwasher at the university food services. I decided the cooks were having way too much fun so I asked around and got myself a cook's job within three days.

Page 1 of 2 -- Read page 2 to find out what foodie knowledge Chef Michael Smith passes on to childrenCL.com: What's the one piece of foodie knowledge you would pass on to kids, and why?
Food does not come out of boxes and trucks and cans. Food comes from the earth, it comes from the ocean, it comes from people and it's personal. Engage in where your food comes from - don't take it for granted. And try to eat the healthiest stuff you can, but engage with it first.

Too many kids (and adults) take food for granted; it's just not something we think about. We're seduced by all these convenience foods that are out there. We're seduced by a culture that leads us to believe it's more important to have two cars in the driveway than the time to sit down and eat with your family.

CL.com: What possesses you about cooking, and/or what are you most passionate about? (a method; an ingredient; a political issue; a region; a taste)
I think one of the things that fascinates me the most about food is that through engaging with your food (becoming aware of the people and resources behind your food), it becomes easy to make great sustainable choices for you, your family and your friends.

Certainly for me, one of the most important things that defines my food is the connection to my friends and neighbours, my community and the food artisans of Prince Edward Island; it makes my food personal. It's not just anonymous ingredients anymore; they all have a story. When you understand that story, it helps you be a better cook - you almost feel a responsibility to whatever person produced that ingredient you're about to enjoy and you want to do your best with it. And that has defined me as a cook, as a dad, and as a chef. I think its one of the most fascinating things about food; how you can have that local and personal connection.

CL.com: To whom do you owe your success?
Much of my success as a cook and as a chef is quite simply due to the passionate people of Prince Edward Island that do their best to make these wonderful ingredients for us. And I truly mean. When I first started cooking on PEI, I was a 24-year-old chef and didn't fully understand that local connection. I would go around looking for ingredients from around me because my perception was, "well they're better (and fresher) if they're from around me than if they're from California."

But in addition to better food and fresher ingredients, I also found personal connections with the people of Prince Edward Island that have come to define my food and helped me become the chef and cook that I am. By being accessible, by being hospitable, by sharing their stories and their passions, they've made me a better cook and I truly trace my success back to those connections that I made as a young chef on Prince Edward Island. They have directly contributed to where I am today.

CL.com: Anything else you would like CanadianLiving.com to know?
MS: Prince Edward Island is a giant farm surrounded by beaches. We're blessed with some of the most passionate culinary artisans on the planet. We are a place of oceans, farms, fishermen, and as a result, we're the kind of place where you come and you'll experience the island and you'll leave with a lifetime worth of food memories. I'm proud to be the newly named food ambassador for Prince Edward Island.

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Under the apron with Chef Michael Smith