He is the man behind Table Fifty-Two in Chicago, and Art and Soul in Washington, DC. He has cooked for the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, President Obama, and the Dalai Lama. He’s been around the reality television block as a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef, and showed off his incredible 120 pound weight-loss on Top Chef Masters. He is Chef Art Smith.
With his charming accent and boisterous laugh Smith oozes pure southern charm; with a healthy side of sass.
“I grew up in the south… fairly rural,” Smith says via telephone from his home in Chicago. “I kind of grew up in a place where I felt like I was adopted because I was so different.”
He lets out that big laugh: “Cooking became like an escape for me. I studied piano, and did a bit of performing, but cooking was always my stage – no one could mess with me.”
Smith got his big break as a personal chef at the age of 21, when the Dean at his school asked if he’d like to help with a dinner at the home of then Florida Governor Bob Graham. It was a night that would change his life forever. “I went over there, and I ended up cooking for Mikhail Baryshnikov. And they loved it, and hired me as a chef,” he recalls.
“It started this whole personal private chef thing, working for zillionaires,” he says. “Later I was recommended to Martha Stewart, and then… poof! The next thing I knew I was working for Oprah Winfrey, and was her personal chef for ten years. Through that I met and cooked for some amazing people, from Mr. Mandela to every recent president. The current one lives down the street from me, so I cook for him quite a bit.”
Using his fame for good, Smith has become known as a humanitarian in the industry and to the point of being named Humanitarian of the Year in 2007 by the James Beard Foundation.
In 2003, Smith founded Common Threads with his partner of 14 years, artist Jesus Salgueiro (pictured right with Smith at their wedding in 2011). A non-profit organization that focuses on helping low-income children, Common Threads helps kids learn to cook wholesome and affordable meals while educating them about different cultures through food and art.
“I believe that food is a common thread,” Smith says. “We all love to eat, and it’s my sermon. It’s the way I connect with people.”
These days, Smith continues to stay focused on the things that are close to his heart, including marriage equality, using his celebrity to help further those causes.
“Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time on things I care about, whether it be children’s health, diabetes, and marriage equality. I tell the kids in my restaurants all the time: today’s chef has way more power than they ever did. I mean, I think that’s the whole reason you become a celebrity. I don’t think there’s any other way around it. I feel that if you’ve been given the opportunity, you have to share it and if you don’t share it, I feel there are repercussions to it.”
Case in point, Smith’s announcement this week that he and Salgueiro will be the first married same-sex couple to climb Mount Kilimanjaro this July, in support of LGBT rights in Africa.
“It’s a challenge,” he says. “We both lost a combined weight of 150 pounds. We feel sexy and sassy. ‘Pretty’ will get us up that mountain,” Smith exclaims.
Climbing one of the world’s tallest mountains at age 53 aside, with everything Smith has on the go it’s obvious he isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon, but that’s because he says his life work isn’t complete.
“I believe I still have a lot to give and do, and I feel like once we get this [same-sex marriage] bill passed in Illinois I want to go and set up shop in Florida, get it passed in my home state. I truly believe that the future success of our world will be people coming together as one. One people, one love.”
Don’t miss Chef Art Smith’s new book Art Smith’s Healthy Comfort, a collection of 150 original, delicious recipes that will help you lose weight – in stores this May.
And be sure to visit him online at http://www.chefartsmith.net for information on all of his endeavours.
The Food Gays
Together since 2009, The Food Gays are two Vancouver men who love food. Join them every two weeks right here on GayVancouver.Net as they bring you something tasty.