Friday, August 2, 2013

Conversations With Michael Smith, Part 1

Chef Michael Smith Pie
Photo by David Stobbe at

Back in June, I was invited to go to Saskatoon with the Pulse Growers of Saskatchewan, Chef Michael Smith, and the winners of the Love Your Lentils contest. I hadn't been to Saskatoon since I was an awkward 14 year old, and I still haven't gotten used to going on press trips or otherwise that have to do with blogging. They are exciting and fun, but I always feel... a bit out of place, as though I don't really deserve to be there. Sure, I'm a writer, but press? Me? I have no idea how to do that. I go and be me, come home and write stories. Is that press? Maybe. I don't know.

The day began with me interviewing Chef Michael Smith.

Me. Interviewing. Cue extreme panic.

I'm not media. I have ZERO experience or training interviewing people. I cook, write, and work with kids. I know more about grade 9 chemistry or how to work with autistic kids than I do interviewing.

As I wait in the hotel lobby for him to arrive, I nervously chew my nails and wonder what the hell I'm even doing there.

Michael Smith is tall. I'm sure he's sick of being told this (as if he doesn't know), or having people and articles comment on it, but you would never guess that he's actually 6'7 from watching his show. In a crowd, he's very hard to miss. He's also really friendly, approachable, and immediately puts me at ease.

"You know, it's okay, we have all day for you to ask questions,"

I know this, but I'm supposed to be media, I'm supposed to have a job to do, so I feebly ask a couple of questions before finally blurting out,

"God Michael, I'm sorry. I'm not a reporter. I have no media training. I work with kids, I love to cook, and I write a food blog. This is more of a hobby, and seriously, I have NO IDEA what I'm doing."

We both relax. I close the notebook and set it aside, looking him in the eye.  I think he realizes I'm not a reporter looking for a scoop, but rather a slightly freaked out woman who only wants to chat with him about food. I do manage to ask one question:

"What's your biggest challenge feeding your kids?" (or something close to that) I'm sure he's been asked this a gazillion times, but I know that people stress so much about getting their kids to eat, and he has 3 kids, so as a Dad and chef maybe picking his brain about what he does would be something readers would like. The response, with all it's passionate fire, is not something I expect at all. The Michael Smith from TV land is mild, measured, and to be perfectly honest, at times a little boring (sorry!). In real life he's all passion, fire, and opinion-which is a pleasant surprise.

"I'm no different than anyone else," he explains.  "Time, keeping them engaged, and making it healthy is important. You know I don't have a lot of patience for people who say they can't cook. You can. It's not rocket science. Cooking isn't really hard, you have to invest the time and make it a priority. "

Cooking daily for a family of five has to be a serious challenge when you are shooting TV shows, writing cookbooks, and traveling as much as he does. I can imagine that it can get a bit wearing, but it's obvious that making sure his family is well fed is a huge priority.

"I view it as my job," he says seriously. "My daughter's 1st birthday is when I get back and I know that tonight my family is eating a chicken that I already prepped and is in the fridge."

He then pulls out his phone and begins showing me pictures. One of his little girl Ariella (around 5 years old), whisk full of egg yolks held high over a bowl. It's soft and beautiful, her eyes reflecting the wonder of a child discovering something new and amazing.

"Every family should have a pancake day. We have a pancake ritual once a week, where I whip up my multigrain pancakes. The kids crack the eggs. You know, I can't crack eggs," he winks knowingly, " I tell Ariella to catch the yolks, whisk them up!" I love this. It reminds me of the pancake days we used to do with Kevin when he was little. He later tells the story of how Ariella once dropped an egg on the floor and was mortified, thinking that she had done something really wrong.

"So I began dropping eggs all over the floor. See? It's no big deal! They are just eggs! It was great until my wife walked in and the kitchen floor was covered in eggs." I could just picture the scene and the ensuing good natured scolding a wife would surely give (or at least I might), and we laugh. I love how with his kids, food is something to explore and play with, and not scary in the least. This is the exact philosophy I always have had with Kevin. Well. Without throwing eggs on the floor. We threw them outside.

Michael continues talking, and I listen, nodding, wide eyed. This isn't someone who feels he needs to be publicly political about food, but who is so deeply passionate about teaching people and making cooking accessible to the general public that I find myself sitting and listening, soaking up his words.

THIS was why I began writing about food, and why I began blogging so much. This passion about food and cooking skills, teaching people and just sharing is what I love. We are on the same page with everything from school lunches to fast food and all the issues in between. Finally I tell him about Kevin's obsession with his show when he was younger. Michael puffs up and smiles,

"See, I'm SO PROUD of that. Inspiring kids. That's exactly what we want. Does he cook now?"

I admit that Kevin mostly likes to eat, but the fact that he knows how to cook and that Michael really was the first person to inspire him is amazing. How many people get to thank the famous person who inspired their kid? Rarely.

The moment is very surreal and suddenly, I'm so grateful that being a blogger has afforded me such opportunities.

Ten minutes tick past and before he has to move on to the next interview, he leaves me with some words that ring in my head even now as I write this.

"I think people believe that with cooking, there's failure there. You can fail at it. So they don't do it. You don't have to be a chef, or think that you have to cook like a guy like me. If you can get your family around a table, to eat real food you cooked yourself, but nothing fancy.  Just something simple, like grilled salmon or mashed potatoes. If you can do that, you are a rock star. On the show, we try to keep it light and engaging. We don't want to scare people."

Yes, you are a rock star. YOU.

Make a salad. Boil a little pasta and toss it with cheese, some fresh tomatoes, and basil. Boom. Forget pinterest and perfection, or the idea that it's all a competition.


Suddenly, our time is over. I haven't written a thing down. So much for being a reporter.

Little do I know, there will be more-and it will inspire me more than I ever thought possible.

Disclosure: Thank you so much to the Pulse Growers of Saskatchewan and for inviting me, flying me out, putting me up in a hotel, and feeding me. I had a wonderful time. Also a huge thank you to Chef Michael for taking the time to talk to me. 

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