Last week the Canadian Food and Wine Institute welcomed a Canadian culinary icon, Chef Michael Smith, to speak to students from Brock University, Niagara College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute and from high schools from throughout Ontario.
The focus of his talk at Niagara College was the fundamentals of the chef industry, saying “We gather, we prepare, we share.”
Living local was another key theme in the discussion as Smith noted the issues facing young chefs with a broken food system that relies on modification for profit as opposed to healthful living. He made the point that students in culinary programs are the future of food and that they have a responsibility to do what’s right when it comes to changing the way Canada eats. Tossing a box of Kraft Dinner across the room, Smith noted the health issues that arise with processed foods and called upon the food lover in each attendee to stand up against the industrialized food movement with healthful choices, urging everyone to plant a vegetable garden.
Beyond the serious responsibility facing the young culinary students, Smith recounted stories from his early career that had the crowd in stitches. In one account he detailed the vegetable garden he planted at the Inn at Bay Fortune. Planting the garden involved weeks of meticulous work where he and his team lovingly placed each seed in preparation for a beautiful crop. What they did not consider was weeds. Each day Chef Smith would send his dishwasher out to the garden to pick the weeds, but in a very specific fashion. He would take a basket with a checkered cloth and lovingly pick each weed as the guests of the restaurant ordered their meals. The guests would look out the window to see the garden being tended and green foliage (weeds) being placed gently into the beautiful basket. As far as they knew, they were indulging in fresh picked salad from the garden at the Inn at Bay Fortune. Laughter erupted in the room and Chef Michael Smith couldn’t help but laugh too – a very honest moment that revealed the fun-loving chef in the Food Network star.
The talk was inspirational and confidence-inspiring for each of the culinary students in attendance. Smith declared the Canadian Food and Wine Institute the best culinary school in country and told the students how unbelievably cool it is that they prepare beer and wine at a culinary institute. After his discussion Smith stuck around to answer questions and take pictures, before he toured the Niagara College Teaching Winery and Brewery and dined at Benchmark Restaurant – a full Canadian Food and Wine Institute experience!
Chef Smith later visited Brock University where he signed copies of his newest cookbook and served hot smoked meat to eager students and staff. As an ambassador for Sodexho, the University’s food service company, Chef Smith often visits the Brock campus to share his healthy, local food philosophy.