It’s too early to say whether the next president will appoint a new White House chef, but a new restaurateur in town, Art Smith of the fledgling Art and Soul on Capitol Hill, has a résumé that could serve him well if Barack Obama wants to make a switch in the kitchen at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Best known for having served as the personal chef for Oprah Winfrey for 10 years, Smith has already cooked several times for the future first family, who lives a few streets away from him in Chicago’s Hyde Park. (“They like delicious, healthy food,” reports the diplomatic chef.) On election night, Smith prepared a private dinner for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and about 150 Democratic stalwarts at Art and Soul. Earlier in his career, he was interviewed by the Reagan administration for the top cooking job. “I was way too young back then,” says Smith, age 48.
The chef currently commutes between Chicago, his home base, and Washington. Would he be up for cooking for Obama and kin? “I’m happy my name is even in the circle,” says Smith, who shows off his bipartisan nature by casually mentioning having had lunch recently with Doro Bush Koch, the current president’s sister.
“I love a dinner party,” says Smith.
What about a state dinner?
“They’re fun, too.”
According to “Art and Soul’s” Web site, Smith has a pretty impressive biography, although nowhere does it mention the kind of rigorous training that formed Cristeta Comerford, the current White House chef:
Chef Art is a significant presence at the restaurant and will oversee all menu developments. He began his culinary career at the Florida Governor’s Mansion, where he worked as a personal chef for Senator Bob Graham, former Florida Governor. He is most known for being a best selling cookbook author, two-time James Beard Award winner, chef/owner of the successful TABLE fifty-two in Chicago, and as former personal chef to Ms. Oprah Winfrey. He is known to viewers of the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” as a regular on the tasting panel and has also served as a guest judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” He has devoted himself to bringing people together with food that is made with heart and soul.
Having written the index for Chef Art’s first cookbook, Back to the Table: Reunion of Food and Family, I can attest to the mood his food calls up. He’s big on community and foods that create, and foster, happy memories. His official personal Web site mentions his culinary training, done at Walt Disney Magic Kingdom College Program, Smith then interned, not once but twice, at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, which is no small thing, especially since Walter Scheib, the former White House chef, also worked there. So there you have it …
Personally, part of me would love to see Scott Peacock, working partner of the late Edna Lewis, as the new White House chef. But how can you not like a socially conscious guy like Art Smith, who says
My career and life experiences have inspired me to co-create a nonprofit organization, Common Threads, based on my passionate belief that families (whether a family by blood or a family of friends) all share an innate desire to care for each other, regardless of culture, race, or geographic location. My mission is to foster a familial environment where children learn to value each other and discover universal understanding and mutual acceptance. I also proudly serve on the board of directors of “Kids Café,” a nutrition program for children in Minneapolis.
We shall see, shan’t we, who will cook for our new president and his family … But can he bake a cherry pie? Better yet, could he please the president of France? Now that would be the test, would it not?
© 2008 C. Bertelsen