Michael Smith Urges Industry to Promote Culinary Tourism


TORONTO — “We’re all in the game together,” said Michael Smith, celebrity chef and keynote speaker at this week’s Culinary Tourism Summit, organized by the Ontario Tourism Culinary Association and held at the MaRS building in Toronto.

Addressing more than 250 guests attending the third annual conference, Smith spoke of the need to better target today’s travellers by promoting Canada’s bounty of products and regional experiences.

“I’m a culinary tourist at heart,” said the chef. “As consumers we’ve become so busy in our lives we’ve convinced ourselves it’s important to be busy.” As a result, we may talk about food more, we may be publishing more cookbooks and watching more food media, but “none of us is cooking.” Yet, said Smith, food is fundamental to our lives. “It’s the root core of our very souls,” he said, pointing to the age-old tradition of gathering, preparing and sharing food. “When we do that, we’re in balance with ourselves. That’s why we get a vicarious thrill watching food shows; we crave that connection.”

It’s that connection that needs to be the focus. “When we travel, anything that is connected to food is addictive,” he said, pointing to the countless stories he’s discovered, and shared as part of his TV show Chef at Large. Smith urged operators and chefs in the audience to better promote unique stories to attract more travellers. “We crave stories, we crave experiences, we want to immerse ourselves and feel we belong; that’s what defines us when we travel. We define ourselves by how we eat.”           

Smith shared his own experience to illustrate his point. In 1992, when he arrived to P.E.I. to work at the Inn at Bay Fortune, there were no restaurants on the Island promoting the regional experience, let alone Canadian menus. Smith set out to change that, and after seven years at the Inn, he did just that and more. In addition to cultivating 75 suppliers to highlight regional cuisine, he helped launch the Flavour Trail, a guide to P.E.I.’s culinary attractions.

Smith urged the audience to gain confidence in telling stories, stressing “so many of us are too humble.” Today, the province is miles ahead of where it was a decade ago, and those stories are becoming more pervasive, Smith said, pointing to various examples of entrepreneurs successfully telling their stories, including Sam Sniderman who once owned Sam the Record Man in Toronto and now owns two distilleries on the Island; the local burger operator, who takes local products such as clams and breads them to make a signature item; and others like a seventh-generation farmer on the Island who, unbelievably, “charges tourists to weed her garden.”

“We’ve woken up and realized culinary tourism is going through the roof,” concluded Smith, stressing that everyone should be an ambassador in their community.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.