Three rowdy boys, one fine dining experience – what could possibly go wrong? Absolutely nothing, in fact. Everything was perfect!
You might have heard that earlier this summer, my culinary hero Chef Michael Smith announced that he and his wife Chastity had purchased the Inn at Bay Fortune, the very same place that had launched Chef Michael’s television career back in the 90s when he was The Inn Chef. For weeks leading up to our trip, I agonized about making reservations: I dearly wanted to go, but I couldn’t quite get comfortable with the idea of leaving the boys on their own in a strange place for several hours while we were a 30 minute drive away. I also had a bit of trouble wrapping my brain around a $500 meal. When I found out that kids could join the “FireWorks” feast (everything is cooked over open flame in a stone oven) for half of the adult price, I couldn’t resist and asked Beloved if we could make reservations to celebrate my birthday.
Here’s a small list of the things I worried over in anticipating the dinner:
1. What to wear. Not so much for me – I have lots of pretty summer dresses perfect for a semi-formal dinner out. But the boys don’t have any pretty summer dresses, nor do they fit into mine. I managed to scrounge up some shirts with collars and no (obvious) stains or tears, although I did not realize until it was too late that I’d packed Lucas’s soccer socks instead of more moderate length sport socks.
2. Whether the boys would eat the food. I wasn’t as worried about this as I was about the clothes. More than half the meals we eat come from a Chef Michael cookbook, and his family tastes seem to align perfectly with our own. But still, I worried. Seven year olds have notably capricious palates.
3. Whether we’d make it through four hours and seven courses of food. When you are comprised largely of wiggle, four hours is an excruciatingly long time to sit at a table for dinner, especially when it runs two hours past your bedtime and you’ve been playing in the sun and sand all day. And I was a little worried about the boys’ behaviour as well.
4. The cost. The final bill was well over $400, which is a breathtaking amount of money for a meal in our world. However, it is on par with some of the other Island Experiences we’d considered like renting kayaks and canoes or deep sea fishing. One lucrative photo contract came through just before we left and helped pay the way, but the Scottish-Dutch DNA in my genes harangued me for even considering such an exorbitant meal.
5. That we would, and that we would not, actually meet Chef Michael himself. Of course, it would have been absolutely amazing if we did. We cook from his cookbooks, we watch his TV shows, and our favourite family photo hanging over our dining room table is a picture taken at his FlavourShack in PEI last summer. To say he is a major celebrity in our lives is a bit of an understatement. I think an IRL meeting with perhaps only Steve from Minecraft or Link from Zelda would make more of an impression on the boys. So I was worried that they would be disappointed if we did not actually get to meet the man himself, but also a bit nervous that we actually might, because (whispers) I have a bit of a crush on him.
As usual, I needn’t have worried about any of it. The boys were nothing short of amazing. They’re drinking Anne’s raspberry cordial, of course!
Lucas loved that he could help himself.
When I saw the menu, I heaved a massive sigh of relief knowing they’d eat almost everything that was being served. Simon was most excited about the 36-item house salad, but it was the seafood chowder and smoked halibut that had me drooling.
A more formal layout of the evening’s courses.
I can’t think of a more lovely setting for a birthday dinner – and note the personalized chalkboard trivet in the middle!
We started the evening with oysters in the actual kitchen where the Inn Chef was filmed. None of us had ever tried them before, and to be honest I probably would not have tried them under other circumstances. But heck, when on the Island, do as the Islanders do, right? To my delight, they were delicious, especially with a little signature Bloody Mary ice on them. And to my even greater delight, Lucas was willing to try them as well. He prefered the brine over the actual oyster, though.
The whole evening was a surprisingly family-friendly affair. We were welcome to inspect the grounds and gardens, which we did.
We were also welcomed (as were the kids) to get up and talk to the staff throughout the meal. Here, Chef de Cuisine Justin Miles rakes the coals under some roasting broccoli for the main course. (And I am absolutely adding flame-charred broccoli to our menu at home!)
I had every intention of being that obnoxious person who instagrams every course of a meal but the food was so amazingly delicious that the kids (ahem, and adults!) gobbled it up as quickly as it came out. The charcuterie was a massive win, and while I practically licked my mason-jar bowl clean of the seafood chowder that had been served in it, the kids liked that course less. They also surprised me by loving both the mussels and the smoked halibut. Lucas said the mussel shells looked like a heart and held them up and said, “Happy birthday, mommy. I love you!”
I also spent most of the meal re-imagining my dinnerware back home. Much as I love my reclaimed barn wood dining table, I think we need to trade it in for a butcher block table like the massive one we dined on. And we need more mason jars – both for drinking and for soup. And how amazing are these colourful pails – that’s the salad course!
As well behaved as the boys were, and they were in fact so well behaved that three separate servers complimented their behaviour and their manners, I am supremely grateful for the gift of the two women who were by chance seated beside us. We were wedged in between two parties, in fact, and when the boys saw the long table and realized they would be sitting beside strangers, they scrambled for the safe “inside” seat. One large party seemed to be comprised of an extended family of Islanders come home from across the country to have dinner together, and they were loud and cackled with laughter and turned their chairs inward toward their group and away from us.
On the other side of us were a woman and her mother, and by the end of the evening I wanted to go home with them. I can only imagine how some people might react to arriving at an expensive fine meal to find themselves sharing space with three young boys, but this lady sat down beside Simon, smiled a massive smile and said, “Hi, I’m Sheila and this is my mom. What’s your name?” Turns out Sheila grew up on PEI and her mother still lives in Georgetown, and they were two of the nicest people we have ever met. They regaled us with stories about growing up on the Island, shared insider secrets about locations for beaches and cottages and where to find wild sea asparagus, ribbed Beloved for not letting the boys jump off the bridge at Basin Head, and generally treated us like family. I truly thought the mother was going to ask to adopt Beloved – she was sitting at an angle where I couldn’t quite hear what she was saying most of the time, but her laughter rang out like a bell as she laughed loudly at each and every one of Beloved’s jokes and quips. When the evening drew long between the main course and dessert and the boys began to get silly, Sheila took one of the markers I had pulled out for the boys and showed them puzzles and mazes. They truly made the meal a memorable and delightful occasion for us, and I am forever grateful for their kindness.
So in the end, we did not get to meet Chef Himself at our dinner out. We did, however, eat the most amazing meal of our lives. There was so much food we could barely move by the time it ended. I was incredibly proud of my boys, who gamely tried a little bit of everything and embraced more than a few new tastes. A visit from “the world’s tallest freestanding chef” would have been the icing on an already delicious birthday cake, but meeting sweet Sheila and her charming mother made up for his absence. I’ll leave it to people who write about food for a living to offer a more serious critique of the menu, but I can tell you this much: we loved it, and it’s an experience none of us will forget.
What more could you ask for a birthday dinner out with your favourite menfolk? And maybe we can plan next year’s vacation to coincide with the Village Feast? Because oh yes, there will be a visit to PEI in 2016. 🙂