A taste of sustainability

Chef Michael Smith of Food Network Canada visits Queen’s

Photo: 
Photo: 
Photo: 

Food Network Canada’s Chef Michael Smith’s sustainable approach to food might reach more locally than you think.

The host of Food Network Canada’s Chef Michael’s Kitchen, Chef Abroad, Chef at Home and Chef at Large, Chef Michael Smith paid a visit to Queen’s this past Wednesday for the event A Taste of Home.

The event, presented by Queen’s Hospitality Services and Sodexo, featured recipes submitted by students and prepared by Chef Michael Smith.

“What it really comes down to is ... food is morale. Food can make you feel good. Food can make all that bad stuff that happened today go away,” Smith said. “By reaching out to the community of students here and actively engaging them in our menu process, our goal is to really bring you a taste of home.”

For anyone considering a career in food or who holds a passion for cooking, Smith said it’s important to understand that your primary relationship is with food.

“Once you understand what that means then you get to have a relationship with cooking. It’s two different things. There [are] too many people out there who are great cooks, awesome cooks, but that had no real relationship with food,” he said.

Smith explained that his approach to food has drastically evolved over the course of his career as a professional chef, which began when he was in university and sought a job at a restaurant to pay for his new car.

“The first, say, 20 years of my career was all about cooking food for anonymous strangers and driving the value equation,” he said.

It was when his son was born that Smith said his outlook on food and cooking changed.

“I realized that health is not just a buzzword, it’s what I do,” Smith said.

Smith said that his insight on healthy cooking and sustainable food changed when it came to cooking for his family, realizing its impact and importance to his career as well.

“You genuinely, in your heart of hearts ... you care. And that has affected my work as a professional chef, it’s directly affected the work we’re doing right here,” he said.

While Smith described the A Taste of Home event as an opportunity to show students a genuine concern for their well-being, it’s not his first initiative to bring healthy and local food to Queen’s.

The Canadian Grilling Company, which opened on campus in Mackintosh-Corry Hall in 2012, is the first restaurant created by Chef Michael Smith.

Smith said that he jumped at the opportunity to open the Canadian Grilling Company when it was presented to him four years ago.

“One of the biggest challenges of our industry is jumping into the issues of sustainability, and making a difference. And this is our opportunity to do that, to learn from this experience,” he said.

With an emphasis on sustainability and supporting local Canadian farmers, the Canadian Grilling Company is the first Canadian university restaurant offering local, organic and traceable food.

Smith said he isn’t concerned with being better than competing companies, but that the focus remains on contributing to the sustainable food movement.

“We’re all in this together. We’re all genuinely reactive to our clients. You guys are the clients, you guys have higher expectations than ever before, in history. You’ve got food you can believe in,” he said.

Smith said that local and organic movements have had a tremendous influence on his cooking, and that an important aspect of that is becoming more connected to the origins of your food.

“In today’s world we are distant from our food. We don’t know the people that produce our food. You back up 50 years, and that’s not very long ago ... We knew the farmers; we knew the fisherman, the artisans and the cheese makers,” he said.

Our food systems have changed and become more impersonal, Smith said, with less thought dedicated to where the food comes from and was produced, and the family that was engaged in it.

“That family deserves to live on a farm that doesn’t have all the inputs and all the deadly chemicals floating around,” he said. “My family matters to me, but I should care about the family that produces my food as well.”

Aside from cooking in a professional environment, Smith said that he fills the role of his family cook — cooking and experimenting daily for his family.

“I go through phases,” he said. “At the moment, I’m cooking a lot of chicken wings, ... just playing around with my chicken wing recipes. My kids ... magically love my ... [wings] made with Thai fish sauce.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.