It’s funny how life comes full circle sometimes. That’s especially true for chef Michael Smith. As one of Canada’s best known chefs, TV personality and prolific cookbook author, he has traveled the globe and cooked in many kitchens.
Last year, he returned to one that was very familiar – the one at Inn at Bay Fortune, a pretty property located on the eastern side of Prince Edward Island and an hour from its provincial capital, Charlottetown. He worked there for seven years early in his career more than two decades ago. Now, he’s back. This time as its owner, along with his wife Chastity.
It’s easy to see why the historic inn, built in 1913 for Broadway playwright Elmer Harris, has enduring appeal for the chef. Its location is stellar, perched on a hill with a view of the ever-changing tides of the Fortune River, which flows into the Northumberland Strait, close by. And it’s surrounded by plenty of land – 46 acres – roomy enough to host outdoor parties with roaring bonfires, to offer picturesque walk trails and to grow plenty of certified organic produce, from herbs to tomatoes, for the inn’s kitchen.
Smith is no absentee owner. He is front and centre, a frequent presence on property. Guests turn into giddy fans when they see him, requesting photos, asking for hugs, shaking his hand and requesting signatures on one of his cookbooks (available for sale by the front desk). He’s a gracious, warm host, happy to chitchat and ask how they enjoyed their stay.
Given Smith’s popularity, it’s not surprising that rooms and reservations in the dining room at his inn are in high demand. That was true from the time the five star-rated inn welcomed its first guests this spring to the moment the last ones check out in the fall. At the present time, there are just 15 rooms available, so it fills up quickly. (Book early to avoid disappointment.)
In the future, the inn will be able to accommodate more guests. Smith has big plans for this property, starting with a new tower which will house new rooms. Then he’s going after a Relais & Chateaux designation and Wine Spectator awards. It’s just a matter of time. The inn is his primary passion and he wants it to showcase the best of what P.E.I. offers. He’s content to stay in the province and serve as innkeeper and host. (He and his family live in the area.)
It’s a role he seems to have been born to play. He put Prince Edward Island on the international culinary map, promoting far and wide its bounty of seafood and local ingredients. He’s still doing that but here it’s on a more intimate scale.
The proof can be seen at the inn’s on-site restaurant called FireWorks. Each night, guests and visitors gather for a feast, a multi-part celebration of good food and drink. It kicks off with guests roaming between stations scattered over the grounds.
There’s pork belly tacos being served on the front lawn. In the herb garden, it’s house-made spicy merguez sausages. In the kitchen, it’s delicious smoked salmon on a seedy gouda cracker. Back in the kitchen, Smith himself is busy shucking oysters, freshly plucked out of the bay in front of the bay, topping them with frozen Bloody Mary ice and presenting them to diners.
It’s a perfect warm-up for the meal to come in the dining room. Course after delicious course rolls out of the kitchen to the communal tables – seafood chowder, seared bluefin tuna, salad with seeds, roots, sprouts and flowers, then smokehouse chicken served with bone marrow roasted potatoes, chanterelles, beets, grilled Romaine lettuce and summer squash.
As a grand finale, servers come out with a role of butcher paper and roll out a wide strip down the middle of the table. Then they throw handfuls of honey granola along its length, then squeeze out a variety of sauces onto the paper. It’s an artful looking mess, created to go along with the vanilla goat cheese cake. Guests scrape up the granola and sauces as they like to top off their dessert. It’s a fitting end to a delicious evening – a casual, delicious affair that is much like the island’s famous kitchen parties where people gather and bond over good food and drink.
Back in the room, the windows are open and the sea air wafts in. While smallish, the space works well with a sitting area, complete with a pair of tree stump coffee tables and a pile of books. Art from local artists adorn the walls – available for purchase with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the creators.
As a turndown amenity, there’s a red Chinese takeout container with two fresh fortune cookies. Those will have to wait. The feast lives up to its name and our bellies are full – at least until tomorrow. Then it’s back to the dining room for breakfast (included in the room rate) – French toast, bacon and yogurt parfait.
Though a luxury property, Inn at Bay Fortune never seems stuffy. It’s true to its maritime roots with a very chill vibe throughout the property. The décor echoes that. Contemporary furniture blends seamlessly with antiques. Soft greens, blues and icy whites – reminiscent of the colors found in sea glass – create a soothing palette. It makes it tough to leave this place, but easy to think about coming back.
Rates start at $308 CDN (currently US $234) per night, based on double occupancy. Check rates and book online at the hotel’s website.
Michele’s stay was hosted by Bay at Inn Fortune, but as always, her thoughts and opinions are her own.
Photos courtesy of Inn at Bay Fortune and Michele Sponagle.