Chef Michael Smith is about as big a name as they come in the television cooking world, but the Food Network host, Chopped: Canada judge, and cookbook author doesn’t really see himself as a star. He’s comfortable just being a husband, dad, a farmer and a chef at his famous PEI restaurant. Fans of his food and culinary skills will get a chance to sample his skills this week in Windsor.
“You know being a celebrity chef to me is actually quite insulting,” Smith told YQG Rocks in a telephone interview on the road to Windsor for An Evening with Chef Michael Smith in Small Town Canada. “I’ve always loved cooking for people and making a fun experience centered around food and that’s been with me forever. But more recently, in the last 15 years or so, I became a dad to three kids and truly understand the social context of food. That’s part of who I am now and that has reignited the fire for me.”
Chef Smith, known for the Food Network television programs The Inn Chef, Chef at Home, Chef at Large, Chef Michael’s Kitchen, Chef Abroad, and Chopped: Canada, is bringing that fire to Windsor when he appears at Mezzo Ristorante and Lounge on April 12 and 13.
“We are coming to Windsor to share some of the stories and the flavours of the things that you’ve come to know from me from over the years,” he said. “I’m looking forward to an evening, not only full of food, but also of fun. We have some interesting ideas that we love to do with guests that get you out of your seat and have a little bit of fun with it. We’re bringing oysters along from Prince Edward Island; we’re shucking some of the most beautiful oysters on the planet with bunch of simple straight forward recipes – the sort of thing that you’ve seen me do for years and years on TV.”
He’s proud of those PEI oysters. He’s having a bunch of them flown out from the Maritime province to begin the evening with an oyster bar. The oysters, which are some of the first ones of the year, will be freshly plucked. The oysters are only part of the equation though:
“For me the biggest inspiration is the connection to the ingredients themselves and to understand the people that produce the food that we cook with, but perhaps more importantly, the experience of eating that food, the table, and the way that food can bring people around the table,” he explained. “And that is really what this event is all about – the opportunity to make some new friends and come together around the table. Let’s enjoy an evening with lots of fun going on around you.”
That whole experience is exactly why his restaurant The Inn at Bay Fortune on Prince Edward Island is a popular destination. The eight-acre farm grows many of its own ingredients and hosts guests in a unique environment for only five months out of the year.
“It’s not a normal restaurant,” he said. “Folks aren’t coming and going at different times and ordering different things. Our guests all come at the same time; they enjoy the same menu every evening, although it changes on what’s on our farm. But it’s a shared communal experience and we’re tremendously proud of that. It’s that kind of spirit that we’re bringing to Windsor. We’re bringing oysters. We’re bringing our own really tasty smoked salmon – the smoke house has been busy the last week. We’ll be serving food with the same style that we do at the Inn.”
It didn’t take Mezzo’s manager Filip Rocca long to choose Chef Smith when the Windsor restaurant was seeking a guest for this special event.
“I’ve seen him on television and after talking to a few customers to see who they would like to have cooking in our restaurant, his name came up more than once,” Rocca added. “The mezzo chefs are very excited and we’re all kind-of nervous. It’s a first for us, so it’s pretty big and it’s coming up quickly.”
Mezzo Ristorante and Lounge opened in 2002 and can hold up to 120 people for dining. One of the unique features of the restaurant is its wine locker, where guests can store their own personal bottles of wine or liquor to get served at meals. Hosting Chef Smith for a couple evenings is something new for the glamourous Italian eatery.
Seating for An Evening with Chef Michael Smith in Small Town Canada is limited with Friday’s meal already sold out and few seats remaining for Thursday night.
An Evening with Chef Michael Smith in Small Town Canada is taking place at Mezzo Ristorante and Lounge, 804 Erie St. E., on April 12 and 13. Seating is $300, including taxes and gratuity. For more information call 519-252-4055 or visit www.mezzo.ca.
Photos courtesy of Chef Michael Smith.