Art Smith is known as a reality-television star, a restaurateur and a chef to the stars, but moving forward, he’s striving to be known as someone who gives back.It’s not every chef who can say he’s cooked for Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, the president and first lady, and the Dalai Lama, but when you add accomplished restaurateur, two-time James Beard Foundation Award recipient, reality-television star, best-selling author and humanitarian to that list of achievements, you have a day in the life of chef Art Smith. As Oprah’s personal chef for 10 years, Smith learned a lot about living life to the fullest, and these days, the dynamic culinarian works tirelessly at what seems to be an infinite number of endeavors. He travels every month to spend time at each of his four restaurants (in Chicago; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; and Palo Alto, Calif.), he’s devoted to a number of advocacy projects, and he’s on a continued journey of improved personal health. Of course, the key to all this is being goal-oriented and adept at wearing numerous hats on any occasion — which describes Smith to a tee.
Watermelon and Feta with Lime and Serrano Chili Peppers
Watermelon and feta make a great pairing. Toss in some hot chili peppers and cilantro, and you have a salad to delight everyone who tries it.
(Buy seedless watermelon for this — you won’t be disappointed.)
3 pounds seedless watermelon, rind removed and cut into large diced pieces (about 6 cups)
2 serrano chili peppers, seeded and minced
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup low-fat feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup cilantro leaves
Place the diced watermelon in a large mixing bowl. Add the minced chili peppers and lime juice to the bowl and toss gently, until combined. Sprinkle with the feta and cilantro leaves and toss to incorporate. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
American Way: You’ve really turned your attention toward philanthropy recently, not only through working with your own children’s charity, Common Threads, but by lending your skills and celebrity to other organizations. Why this focus now?
Art Smith: At 53 years old, I see being an advocate for children and equality as a calling. It’s something Oprah stressed to me for years, and I’m honoring what she taught me. Chefs have far more power than they imagine. I’m in the process of turning my family farm in Florida into a teaching farm with LEED-certified, prefab homes, so it can be a retreat and an extension of what we already do with Common Threads.
AW: Your new book, Art Smith’s Healthy Comfort: How America’s Favorite Celebrity Chef Got It Together, Lost Weight, and Reclaimed His Health! (HarperOne, $28), recounts your personal weight-loss-and-wellness journey. Why did you write about your personal story?
AS: People kept asking me to. At 49 years old, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and my health was deteriorating. But I got a health coach, lost 120 pounds and put my diabetes into remission, and people want to hear more about that. I’ve become a lot more open about my personal life recently, and I think that is part of being authentic.
AW: How has your weight loss affected your professional goals?
AS: I love all my restaurants, but my focus is no longer going to be on fine dining. We have plenty of that. Now it’s about meeting all people, feeding them well and keeping them healthy. I just opened a concept in Palo Alto, Calif., called LYFE Kitchen, and I hope to bring it across America. It is great-tasting, affordable, healthful food, and I want to bring that to everyone.
AW: You’ve cooked for an impressive roster of world leaders and entertainment icons throughout your career. Who were you most nervous about serving?
AS: Probably Nelson Mandela. At that time, I’d already cooked for Princess Diana and lots of amazing people, but to meet this godlike man face to face was [intimidating]. But he requested oxtails, and I’m Southern, so that was easy.
For more information about Art Smith’s childhood-health organization, Common Threads, visit www.commonthreads.org.