Michael Smith grew up in Victoria, Australia. Here he trained as chef, whilst nurturing his other passion – surfing! From Warrnambool at one end of the Great Ocean Road he moved to Melbourne at the other, cutting his teeth in the vibrant restaurant scene and revelling in the multi-faceted food culture of Australia’s most cosmopolitan city. Early influences were principally Italian – Donovans on St Kilda’s lively beach front formed Michael’s apprenticeship. This iconic restaurant is still serving Melbourne’s connoisseurs with Mediterranean inspired dishes using the finest ingredients. However it was also the influx of Asian style and flavours, played out and fused in a myriad of exciting ways in Melbourne’s top restaurants, which formed the basis of Michael’s own style.
Inspired by both this love of food culture and surfing, Michael travelled extensively in Asia, all the time unravelling the roots of more of the local flavours and dishes, tantalising tendrils of which had found their way into Melbourne’s great melting pot.
However Europe was also calling. Excited about accessing the diversity of European culture, using the UK as a base, Michael threw himself into life in both Edinburgh and then London. In the latter he worked in hit fusion restaurant The Sugar Club, which won multiple awards and was very much a leading light in the late 1990’s.
Eventually though and perhaps inevitably, the scent of salty air and the inkling of a wave bought Michael down to Cornwall and to St Ives. It didn’t take long for him to realise he had happened upon a special opportunity, both for himself and for his cooking. Being in the UK meant being part of a burgeoning food and restaurant culture, with easy access Europe and even places like Morocco which would inspire Michael in years to come. And in Cornwall he had the chance to work with the highest quality, most diverse seafood he had ever used. This leant itself naturally to Michael’s style of cooking and especially to the pan-Asian influence he bought with him.
Michael soon became Head Chef at Porthminster Beach Cafe, the owners being quick to see the potential of this young Australian’s fresh, light and flavoursome cooking. Local seafood was fused with Asian and Mediterranean influences, and diners visiting this simple, unpretentious ‘beach cafe’ were blown away by the experience. Fish and Chips remained on the menu, but Michael set out to make his the best; his formula continues to win awards today.
Michael has found his niche and yet shows no sign of complacency, as he pushes the restaurant forward year after year. Becoming increasingly self-sufficient in some aspects – foraging for ingredients in the cafe’s stunning location and nurturing the small garden perched above the beach – are part of the current development plans. Sustainable fishing is also a key part of Porthminster’s ethos and a commitment which grows year on year.