Art Smith

Chef, Restaurateur

Chicago

Chicago chef and restaurateur Art Smith has been around food his entire life. He grew up on a farm in the small town of Jasper, Fla., where he learned about cooking from his mother, grandmothers and Leila Curry, the African-American woman who helped raise him. But he’s come a long way since his days on that farm — today you’re more likely to find him rubbing shoulders with VIPs such as Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey. Smith actually served as Winfrey’s personal chef for 10 years and has cooked for several celebrities and heads of state, including Mikhail Baryshnikov, President Barack Obama, and former Florida governors Bob Graham and Jeb Bush. He also is the executive chef and co-owner of Table fifty-two in Chicago, Art and Soul in Washington, D.C., Southern Art and Bourbon Bar in Atlanta and California’s LYFE Kitchen restaurants. In April 2013, Smith spent 10 days in Israel as part of the State Department’s American Chef Corps program where he cooked with Bedouin women and Israeli chefs in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the West Bank. He also just released his fourth cookbook, Art Smith’s Healthy Comfort: How America’s Favorite Celebrity Chef Got it Together, Lost Weight, and Reclaimed His Health!, in early May 2013.

  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    What are the best places for breakfast in Chicago?

    My favorite meal of the day is breakfast. The best egg white omelet I’ve ever eaten in the world is at Eleven City Diner. They’re wonderful and huge and satisfying. Ina’s makes the best pancakes in Chicago.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    When is the best time to visit Chicago?

    If you like to get bundled up in your Uggs and coat, I think Chicago is fun when there’s snow. I think spring, when things are blooming — particularly the tulips along Michigan Avenue — is beautiful. Fall is also really nice.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    What are the best Chicago museums?

    My all-time favorite is The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. It’s where the Indiana Jones movies were said to be inspired. My second favorite is The Art Institute of Chicago — go there specifically for the impressionist collection. The dinosaur [Sue, the Tyrannosaurus Rex] at The Field Museum is also just amazing to see.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    What are the best things to do in Chicago?

    Definitely take an architectural tour on the river. Visit some of the Chicago museums — they are some of the best in the world. Chicago celebrates sports better than anyone — there’s nothing like a Cubs baseball game or White Sox game or Chicago Bears game. Even though they may not win, you’ll have an amazing time. If you’re an athletic type or want to just take a walk, there’s nothing more beautiful than walking along the lake on Lakeshore Drive in the parks [Millennium, Grant and Lincoln]. Chicago has such diversity in its neighborhoods and they’re so close together that you don’t have to deal with traffic — I think just explore some of the neighborhoods because they are all so unique and different. Our Chinatown isn’t as big as New York’s, but it’s just the right size and has amazing food. And in New Chinatown [on the north side], you can get a fantastic bowl of pho, or you can go up to Andersonville and discover some great Middle Eastern dishes.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    What are the best markets in Chicago?

    I’m a big believer in shopping in the area where I live. My favorite place here is a local market called Hyde Park Produce, and the Green City Market is great. We have a lot of organic markets that I go to also.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    What are some of Art Smith’s favorite cookbooks?

    One of my favorite cookbooks is Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cross Creek Cookery, which takes me back to my roots. I love Edna Lewis and any of her books, especially In Pursuit of Flavor. I depend on Jacques Pépin for teaching me technique and, of course, anything by Julia Child.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    Who are some of Art Smith’s biggest culinary inspirations?

    For having a successful business and as a successful humanitarian, I think Jamie Oliver is probably the best in the world. I think he has done so much to change the way people eat, as well as educate people about eating seasonally and fresh. Alice Waters was the first in this country, and Jamie was the first to take it to the world.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    How did Art Smith end up in the culinary world?

    I grew up on farm in a little town in Florida called Jasper. And anybody that has any association with a farm knows that when you grow up on a farm, you eat a lot because you work hard. I grew up with a mother and grandmothers that worked a lot; and, because of that, I was raised by an African-American woman, Lelia Curry, who was with me most of the time, and I learned a lot from her. I also always loved to entertain, and would have parties when my parents went out of town. In junior college and college, I was in charge of parties, and the food was so bad at most of them, I began cooking, as well. But I never enjoyed being a student so I would do internships to escape. I did an internship at The Greenbrier [in West Virginia] that I loved, and that taught me about elegant food and professional kitchens. Then I worked at [Walt] Disney [World Resort in Florida] because I wanted to learn about Disney management. The dean [at Florida State University] liked me and recognized my talent but didn’t think I was a great student, so he recommended me for work at the governor’s mansion. This was in the early ’80s when Martha Stewart’s Entertaining book had just come out — and I could reproduce everything in it. Then we had Mikhail Baryshnikov as a special guest and he hired me as his personal chef — after that, I became a personal chef for 20-plus years. That brought me to Chicago where I met Martha Stewart and Oprah, and that’s sort of how it all got started.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    What is the best trip Art Smith has ever taken?

    One of my favorite trips is one of my most recent. I rented a house in the foothills of the Alps on the French-Swiss border in a place called Beaujeu. It’s a little town, and we stayed in this wonderful house. There was no cell [service] and no supermarket. One of the people in town heard I was there and brought me all of this food — fresh rabbit, chicken, vegetables and olive oil — and I cooked every day so we didn’t eat in any restaurants. I took walks in the mountains and picked cherries from the trees. This wasn’t a trip where we went through museums; this was a trip where we completely chilled out and ate fresh cooked food. It wasn’t the most exotic vacation I’ve ever taken in my life, but it was definitely one of the most pleasurable. To me, a great vacation is when you’re basically in tears when you have to leave.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    What are Art Smith’s favorite restaurants?

    One of my new favorites is Bantam + Biddy in Atlanta. It has killer gluten-free fried chicken. I don’t have a gluten issue, but I had to try it — it’s excellent. I also love Holeman & Finch [Public House in Atlanta]. I like gastropubs and I think it’s one of the best in America. If you’re squeamish about eating all parts of the animal, it may not be your cup of tea; but if you want a lovely cocktail, it’s great. One of my favorites is the Blitzkrieg Pop — it’s a mix of gin, lemon juice, crème de cacao and Cocchi Americano served on the rocks.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    What does Art Smith look for in a hotel?

    I like antiquity, but I also really like cool and hip, and sometimes these very elegant places tend not to be really hip. So it all depends on where I am. When I’m in Los Angeles, I want to be in a hipper place, like The Standard, Downtown LA. But if I’m in New York, I don’t mind a little old elegance — like something cool from the ’30s. I also look for excellent food. The Grand Hyatt Hotel in Shanghai has the best Chinese breakfast. And I love the traditional Palestinian Markook bread at The American Colony Hotel Jerusalem. It’s paper-thin unleavened bread and when you unfold it, is almost transparent — you simply tear it apart and use it to scoop various dips and hummus.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    What are Art Smith’s favorite hotels?

    I love The Surrey in New York City and The Standard, Downtown LA in Los Angeles for business. I always stay there when I’m shooting for television. It has a 24-hour restaurant that is really excellent. You can get a great omelet, and the staff is friendly and used to dealing with people at strange hours. I think The Biltmore in Santa Barbara [now Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara] is beautiful. If you get the opportunity to stay in a bungalow, it’s fabulous. The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club [in Georgia] is a great hideaway, and The Greenbrier [in West Virginia] is beautiful and gorgeous. In London, I really like The Dorchester.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Art Smith answered the question: Art Smith

    What are Art Smith’s favorite cities?

    I adore going to New York to find out what’s new. When I want to feel warmth, and to be romanced and intoxicated, I head to Miami. Miami is where Jesus [Salgueiro, the artist] and I met, so it’s also associated with love. When I want to be comforted by the food I’ve cooked and enjoyed, there’s no better place in the South than Charleston, S.C. My career was founded in celebrity, so there’s no better place to be around that than Los Angeles. I go there to get my celebrity hookup.

    In Asia, Shanghai is probably the most beautiful modern city in the world. There’s no greater city in the world than Singapore — it’s conservative, but an amazing city. A city that I’ve just discovered, and that some may find challenging but I find exciting, is Caracas, Venezuela. It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people. I’ve learned to find beauty in challenging places. I think some people hear the word ‘challenge’ so they choose not to go — but if I want perfect, I go to Disney. I like to see authenticity. I love Johannesburg, even more than Cape Town. Johannesburg is the New York of South Africa. Rome also is one of the most amazing cities in southern Europe. You have not lived until you’ve ridden on the back of a motorcycle in the traffic down a Roman street.

    When it comes to just pure beauty and history and crumbling elegance, there’s nothing more beautiful than St. Petersburg, Russia. And if you really want a fix and you don’t want to go around the world, there’s no better city in North America than Montreal. It’s the most flavorful, authentic city in North America.