It’s been nearly two years since I first wrote about stalking my culinary hero, Chef Michael Smith. Since then we’ve been to his Flavour Shack in Souris several times, and for my birthday dinner last year we splurged on an incredible family dinner at his new FireWorks restaurant at the Inn at Bay Fortune. And yet, despite our best efforts to meet him in person, Chef Michael himself has managed to evade us.
Until Tuesday, that is! In a delightful and completely unexpected convergence of my day job, my love of photography and my celebrity crush, I had the amazing opportunity to take and tweet photos of Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAuley (how much do I love that my “boss” is from PEI?!) making soup with Chef Michael Smith at an industry reception hosted by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association. They’re the folks behind the #HalfYourPlate campaign.
I was more than a little anxious the day of the event. I alternated between worrying that I wouldn’t get a chance to meet Chef Michael and worrying that I would in fact get to meet him — but would babble like an idiot. There may be some precedence for the latter. I also worried about forgetting an important piece of gear at home; whether I’d be able to get a clean photo worthy of the subject matter; whether my equipment would fail; whether I could get it right in camera well enough to avoid the need for post-processing; whether there would be too many people in the room and where I should position myself for the best shot; which lens I should use; how I’d be able to get the photo from my camera to my phone to tweet the photo; whether I should use my flash on-camera, off-camera or not at all; whether I would get stuck in traffic on my way to the event and be late or miss it entirely; whether the egg salad I had for lunch would give me food poisoning and render me unable to attend; and, whether Beloved would ever forgive me for meeting Chef Michael without him.
By the time I actually got to the Chateau I was so frazzled that I was relieved to have simply made it to the site intact. I walked into the ballroom and nearly dropped my equipment – he was RIGHT THERE! Surprisingly, there were no heavenly beams shining on him, no chorus of foodies with harps and whisks around him. And after nearly hyperventilating, I was actually able to walk right up and talk to him and say hello, just like a normal human being. And then this happened:
He was sweet enough to both indulge my request for a photo and to listen to me babble about our various trips to
stalk him visit PEI, my love for the Island and how I credited him almost entirely for me learning to cook in my 40s. To my delight, he said that he took issue with me giving him credit, and that people have been figuring out how to cook food for generations. He said that all he did was give me the confidence to give myself permission to learn, which was a lovely way of framing it. He asked me about the boys and their ages, and told me about his three kids,and we chatted a bit about the Inn at Bay Fortune as well. By that point, I felt like I’d taken more than my share of his time and retreated to a corner of the ballroom to have a wee moment and get my wits about me while preparations for the reception went on around me. Luckily, I had more than an hour before I needed to take my one tweetable photo and my colleagues and I chatted amiably while we waited for the cooking demo with our Minister to begin.
To my immense relief, I was able to nail a couple of great shots and managed to get them out on the corporate Twitter account without incident.
By the time the reception wrapped up, it had been a couple of hours of being in the room with Chef Michael and I really thought I’d shown tremendous restraint at not following him around like a puppy dog but kept a respectful and respectable demeanor – and distance. I was packing up my (largely unused) gear when I noticed him chatting with a few people nearby. I had an idea, shrugged it off as ridiculous and insane, and then decided to carpe my diem. When would I ever have an opportunity like this again?
I used my iPhone make a FaceTime connection to Beloved at home and told him to gather up the kids and stand by. Then I took a deep breath and I think I was already blushing when I approached Chef Michael, brandishing my iPhone. The emcee for the evening smiled and me and gestured at my phone, asking “Would you like me to take a picture?”
“Um, no,” I blushed, looking at Chef Michael. “I was wondering if I could trouble you to say hi to my boys?” and I held up the live FaceTime connection. I now know that Chef Michael is not only a passionate advocate for family cooking and a world class chef, but a genuinely lovely person, because he did not miss a beat and immediately leaned in to the screen to say hello to the boys.
“You know,” Chef Michael said to them, “your mom is pretty cool! Now EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!” He went on to say hi to everyone, and to smile and wave as everyone said hello back.
I couldn’t have asked for a better finish for a fun evening. Now not only have I met our culinary hero, but the whole family has as well. And it was one of those rare and delightful situations where someone you’ve been admiring for years turns out to be an even more lovely person than you’d imagined.
And also? Chef Michael told my kids that their mom is cool. I’ll be milking that one for YEARS!