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 Olympics in 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 with 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."
Visit Vacay.ca to read the rest of this article and to see a video of Michael Smith talking about cooking and travelling the world.
Daniel Boulud (shown here with fellow chef Danny Meyer) had two restaurants in Vancouver, db Bistro Moderne and Lumiere and has just opened Maison Boulud at the newly renovated Ritz-Carlton hotel in Montreal. He's also opening Café Boulud at the new Toronto Four Seasons this summer. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for FOOD & WINE)
French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten owns Market at Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver. His eponymous restaurant in New York is one of only five in the city with three Michelin stars. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Toronto is on edge waiting for the opening of David Chang's three-level restaurant, meant to be completed shortly. The noodle master (among other things) already owns nine Momofuku Group restaurants in New York, and one in Sydney. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for GQ)
Chef Scott Conant is a man who knows his hot spots, with restaurants beloved by critics and foodies in New York, Miami, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas. His Toronto version of Scarpetta opened in the Thompson Hotel in 2010, despite some original controversy. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)
Chef Gordon Ramsay took over from a Montreal landmark restaurant in 2011 -- and closed it in 2012. But Canadians shouldn't feel too badly about that -- the star chef has closed down operations in Dubai and Melbourne recently as well. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)
The most recent addition to Canada's star-studded chef roster, Jamie Oliver will be opening a restaurant in Montreal with famed, Victoria-born chef Derek Dammann in September 2012. (AP Photo/Danny Lawson/LOCOG)
Follow Adrian Brijbassi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AdrianBrijbassi