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.