The Inn at Bay Fortune has undergone a metamorphosis. The transformation, says Chef Michael Smith, who purchased the historic PEI property with his wife Chastity earlier this year, can be summed up in three words: farm, fire, feast.
By donalee Moulton
Smith brought the former summer home of Broadway playwright Elmer Harris to national attention when he hosted The Inn Chef, a Food Network Canada favourite, and he has returned to his roots after a 17-year absence. Upon his return, Smith revived the farm on which the Inn sits, and there are now 200 types of plants in the ground. Helping Smith, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, keep the organic produce hale and healthy are two of Prince Edward Island’s leading market gardeners.
While there are plans are in the works to sell some produce at a farmers’ market stand near the entrance to the 102-year-old Inn next year, the importance of the farm is much more immediate. “What is available each morning from the garden is what will be featured on our menu that night,” says Smith. “Every day the menu starts from scratch.”
The ancient art of live-fire cooking defines that menu. Indeed, the restaurant is named FireWorks in testament to the 18-foot flaming “beast” the new owners built. “There are seven ways to use fire in food, and we will use them all,” says Smith. That includes serving up dishes prepared in the smokehouse, on the grill and over the coals.
Customers will also feel the warmth of the fire directly. Diners will start their repast in the open-fire kitchen each evening at 6 p.m. for a taste of the Island charcuterie, an “all-you-can-slurp” oyster bar, and smoked fish. “It’s a good, old-fashioned kitchen party every night,” says Smith.
The $80 feast also boasts kettle chowder, fresh baked bread, and a house salad tossed with produce, herbs and vegetables that are 100 per cent grown on the property. “We’re shooting to have 50 ingredients in the salad,” says Smith. “People talk about this salad. It’s one of a kind.”
Other courses will be served up in the communal dining room where everything is served family style at long tables. The wood-roasted meat course, as well as the vegetables and fish, are prepared in front of guests.
The emphasis on local ingredients that infuses the menu and the Inn’s philosophy, is not a trend, notes Michael. It is an expectation of customers and simply the way restaurants must operate today to thrive in a competitive market.
What is new is the concept Michael and Chastity Smith have created for the Inn at Bay Fortune. “There is nothing else out there like this,” says Smith. “There are no best practices to replicate. The learning curve is steep.”
The Inn at Bay Fortune’s Top Tips
Control your costs. Know exactly what you are spending and where. This will enable you, in turn, to effectively manage your expenses in both the short and long term.
Invest in your first month. For seasonal businesses, the first 30 days before opening are among the most critical. It’s not a time to pinch pennies. Bring staff in, train them and familiarize them with the menu, the kitchen and the way the restaurant operates.
Live your dream. For Chef Michael Smith, creating a restaurant with the feel and flavour of FireWorks is a dream come true. “This idea is my passion,” he says. “You need to feed your passion.”