Michael ready to spill the beans in long-awaited book of recipes
For more than a decade satisfied diners at the Porthminster Beach Cafe have been asking chef Michael Smith when he's going to write his own cookbook.
The modest and mild-mannered man behind the imaginative but unfussy fusion-style menus at the St Ives restaurant is finally about to put a big smile on the faces of the myriad food lovers who covet his recipes – and the secret of his exquisite monkfish curry, in particular.
Next week sees the launch of Porthminster Beach Cafe – The Cookbook, a beautiful, simply designed volume that echoes the picture- postcard location of this much-loved seafront eaterie, where dishes are inspired by the wealth of fresh local ingredients found on the doorstep.
"I have always wanted to do it, but I never found the time or the right people to work with on it until now," says Mick who, in an unplanned twist of timing, is also counting down to the imminent birth of his first child.
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"I wanted to share how lucky we are with the ingredients we have here," says the 34-year-old Australian who trained at Donovan's in Melbourne, one of the country's top restaurants.
As an ambitious fresh-faced young chef, searching for good surfing waves and different cooking experiences, he turfed up in Cornwall and fell in love with this perfect little corner.
Two-and-a-half years ago, after building up the restaurant's reputation and becoming a partner in the business, he fell in love with the girl too – Diane Hall, now Smith, an events manager at the Eden Project. Baby Smith is due at the beginning of June, and the thought lights up Mick's eyes with excitement.
But before that, there's the book to launch next weekend, when Porthminster Beach is also hosting the St Ives Food and Drink Festival for the first time.
Mick set out to capture the essence of his cuisine which makes the very best of the produce they can source locally, grow in their own vegetable garden behind the restaurant, buy straight from the dayboat fishermen – who even call from sea to tell him what they've caught.
"Today it's lobster and line-caught pollack, for instance. And the English asparagus is in season," he says.
"I am so, so lucky that I can play with ingredients. The majority of chefs have the same menu all the time."
He even sources free food, like seaweeds, from the surrounding landscape and foraging along the coast or cliffs for half an hour twice a day is even part of the kitchen timetable.
"That's the beauty of this area; we keep finding new things to harvest," says Mick. Even with his exceptional reputation, he tends to keep out of the spotlight in the kitchen, where he oversees up to 26 chefs over lunch, dinner and – since the end of last month – breakfast service.
Devon-based Denham Productions did make Mick a TV chef when they made a series of programmes about him and his cooking for the Discovery Channel a few years back. But it's another familiar face from the Westcountry food world who salutes Mick's cooking in a foreword to the book – Nathan Outlaw.
"I've known him for a while; he and Heston Blumenthal have both eaten here quite regularly over the last three years."
Mick has kindly agreed to let us preview some of the featured recipes here, but if you are hoping for the secret to the monkfish curry, I'm afraid that's still under wraps... but, rest assured, it is in the book.
Porthminster Beach Cafe – The Cookbook is published next Saturday. It's available from the cafe or from bookshops. St Ives Food and Drink Festival runs over the weekend of May 18 and 19, between 10am and 4pm.