Stephanie Smith considers each plate of food she sends out of her kitchen a work of art.
“My style is artsy, creative. I love garnishes. Presentation and colour are important to me,” says the chef at The Cheese Store Bistro in Point Edward.
The Cheese Store opened an outdoor bistro that seats 30 late last summer and it recently opened for its second season.
On warm evenings, diners can book reservations on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays to enjoy a meal al fresco.
Smith (known affectionately as Steph the Chef) changes up the menu according to what is most fresh at the market. Of course, most dinner choices incorporate cheese and each meal starts with a gourmet cheese platter.
“What I like about our bistro is that I can create my own recipes and the quality of the food is high end,” she said.
Smith grew up in Sarnia, learning kitchen basics from her late mother, Margaret Bailey, who was a local pastry chef.
“Mom catered a lot of weddings and worked at places like My Mother’s House (a fine dining room on Christina Street),” she said. “Cooking came easy. She showed me the ropes.”
Smith took a three-year apprenticeship at Lambton College’s International Culinary Institute in the late ‘90s. After graduating, one of her first jobs was to help open The Smoked Oyster owned by Tania Auger on Front Street.
“I was there about three years and loved its funky, upscale menu.”
She worked at several other fine dining rooms in town before taking a short hiatus with the Coast Guard’s administration.
But her heart was in cooking and, when owner Leo Stathakis opened his fourth Coffee Lodge at Lambton Mall, Smith launched a catering business for him.
“I developed his menu and did the quality control for everything from baked goods to wraps and sandwiches.
“I learned a lot about customer service at Coffee Lodge in 10 years,” she said.
When her partner Murray Budden, owner of The Cheese Store, decided to begin a catering service, Smith came onboard.
She has developed original recipes for The Cheese Store and bistro including Pointe Caprese Salade with Buffalo mozzarella and Watermelon Feta Blueberry Salad.
The dinner menu has features such as planked fresh fish, beef tenderloin, duck breast and beer can chicken.
“Each plate is an art piece,” Smith said. “My mom was an artist and so am I. When I have time, I like to make mobiles and recycled paper art.
“Like my garnishes, the wilder the better.”
The Cheese Store Bistro is at 510 Michigan Ave. Call 519-491-1199
– Cathy Dobson