By Kristen Smith
BAY FORTUNE, P.E.I. — Prince Edward Island food ambassador chef Michael Smith is creating a chef’s paradise at The Inn at Bay Fortune with the pillars of farm, fire and feast.
Smith and his wife Chastity bought the 17-room seaside property and transformed the onsite restaurant into FireWorks, which launched in the summer and celebrated its grand opening on Sept. 3.
“This is the property where I first made my mark back in the ’90s — my first head chef job, my first foray into local food,” said Smith, who also made his mark on the 40-acre property with his first cooking show, The Inn Chef.
Smith spent seven years at the stove, and during that time planted a garden on the property. “By the time I left, it had really blown up to a farm; we had 200 different things growing in the ground there years ago, a full-on herb garden, and an acre and a half under cultivation, but that had all disappeared,” he said.
The Smiths hired another couple: local organic market gardeners Jeff and Carey Wood to bring back the farm.
“They’re amazing, and they understand that their job is not just to produce vegetables out of the soil, but to tell stories,” said Smith. “We’re producing vegetables and stories.”
The farm grows the vegetables served by the onsite restaurant.
“Next year, it will be 100 per cent. We’ve installed greenhouses, hydroponic systems,” said Smith.
FireWorks’ house salad has about 30 different greens, shoots, herbs and flowers grown onsite — one night the salad included more than 60 ingredients, said Smith.
The other products come from P.E.I. producers. “Everything else, and man oh man, that’s a lot of stuff,” said Smith.
For many years, Smith has dreamt of building “in one place, all forms of fire known to man.”
Stretching the length of a wall, a 25-foot, brick-lined, wood-burning oven built by Red Clay Construction is at the centre of FireWorks. It has a smokehouse on one end, a hearth in the middle and wood oven on the other end.
“Between those three units, we can do a lot of different things,” said Smith. “We’ve got a list of nine different ways to cook with fire and we’ve got them all in one spot.”
The dining experience, which Smith calls Feast, invites guests to sit at communal tables and eat family-style (within respective parties).
“It’s amazing to watch every night the little miniature community that we create of 52 guests,” said Smith.
Arriving at 6 p.m., guests are invited to mill about the property and are served drinks and food.
Led by chef de cuisine Cobey Adams, the kitchen brigade is encouraged to interact with guests as they make the evening’s chowder and bake bread.
At 7 p.m., guests are seated and the food starts to flow, beginning with a “Taste of the Island” board for the party, then chowder, fish, house salad, protein, vegetables and dessert.
A seasonal operation, the main building was renovated and updated, but there are further plans for work on the property to bring it to a five-star rating.
“What’s ahead of us, is building more rooms and adding chef’s cottages for families to rent,” said Smith. “We’re going to create these cottages with an amazing fire-burning kitchen in them with their own little herb gardens, with full access to the farm and curate for those guests.”
While those guests will likely partake in the Feast experience while staying on the property, they will also be able to have specific meal kits delivered so they can cook in their cottage.
“There are multiple phases ahead of us, but the phase we’re in right now is stabilizing the business, creating a destination draw,” said Smith. “That’s phase one, in the future we’ll build the chef’s cottages.”
Smith also plans to build an onsite, wood-oven bakery and GrillWorks, where families can come during the day and create their own cheeseburgers.