Michael Smith, Executive Chef at Porthminster Beach Café, is celebrating the start of his 15th season at the iconic beach-side restaurant overlooking St Ives Bay.
Originally from Victoria, Australia, Michael came to Cornwall in search of a great food scene and Britain’s answer to the beach lifestyle; he fell in love with St Ives and has made it his home.
Michael recalls: “I was working in London and I kept hearing about this mythical place with amazing produce, sandy beaches and decent waves – I didn’t believe it until I saw it for myself! I knew St Ives was special as soon as the train rounded the bend and I caught my first glimpse of the town.”
The talented young chef was quickly recruited by the owners of Porthminster Beach Café, who recognised the time was right to take the food at the white-washed, art deco-style eatery up a notch or two.
Chefs are known for being a peripatetic bunch, but not Michael, who over the years has worked to make his chosen workplace a well-loved food destination with an international reputation; he has remained a constant presence in the kitchen throughout.
Following in the footsteps of Rick Stein, Cornwall’s original food hero, Michael put fresh local seafood centre-stage, adding his own twist with recipes and ingredients inspired by Australia’s Pan-Asian cuisine, his experience of working in top Italian restaurants, and his surf-driven global travels.
Taking advantage of the restaurant’s unique location, he helped create a coastal kitchen garden, and was one of the first chefs in Cornwall to introduce foraged ingredients into his menus.
The restaurant has become an essential pit-stop on the itinerary of any discerning food-lover visiting the South West, and has amassed a large collection of national food and travel awards during Michael’s tenure.
In 2006, Michael helped the public gain an insight into the life of a busy restaurant kitchen in the series Beach Café, which aired on Discovery’s Travel & Living Channel.
He is also responsible for dreaming up Porthminster Beach Café – The Cookbook, a collection of signature recipes, and has been a driving force behind the St Ives Food & Drink Festival, which is held on the beach outside the restaurant each year.
Cornwall’s growing attractiveness as a year-round destination – partly fuelled by a buoyant food culture – now allows Porthminster Beach Café and others like it to stay open all year, providing steady employment and career progression for hospitality professionals.
Michael has no plans to take a step back, saying: “I want to be here for another 15 years; it’s a fantastic place to live and work.”
He added: “Despite my management responsibilities, I still get to cook almost every day. There will be challenges in the years ahead, but I’m excited about what the future holds for Cornwall’s food scene.”