At a time when American society seems torn across political, geographic and socio-economic lines, celebrity chef Art Smith is convinced food can bridge the divide.
“Food helps communicate and helps us to heal. We underestimate the power of good food,” he said, promising that perfectly fried chicken could bring mortal enemies to the same table and provoke dialogue. “It opens doors. I don’t feed angry people. Just hungry people.”
He also likens his cooking to the music of his friend, Lady Gaga. While fans were glued to their television sets for the singer’s Super Bowl halftime performance, Smith was sitting just three rows from the field.
“It was just as magical in person,” recalled Smith. “Has there ever been someone who is such a hero and embraced the LGBT community and not only shown her support, but intertwined it into her art and reached out to millions and millions?’
When Lady Gaga started singing, “Born this Way,” he said he would never forget the roar of more than 70,000 fans in the stadium.
He applauded her for leveraging the worldwide viewership of the football championship to promote a message of unity, rather than score easy political points. (“People ask if I would cook for Donald Trump,” Smith said. “Maybe I will,” if that meal might lead to honest dialogue.)
Smith met the iconic singer years ago backstage during a taping of Oprah Winfrey’s TV show, during his 10-year stint as the media mogul’s personal chef. Smith was surprised to learn that Lady Gaga had followed him on “Top Chef Masters.” After the show, they enjoyed Smith’s signature chicken and waffles in Oprah’s green room.
He told Lady Gaga he lost 80 lbs. listening to “Bad Romance,” and she must let him cook for her. That was the beginning of just one deep friendship born from fried chicken.
“I’ve always wanted to be the Bono of food,” Smith admitted.
During the Obama Administration, he served as a “chef ambassador” and traveled the world as an advocate for healthy eating. During that time, he and his husband often traveled to countries that were not considered LGBT-friendly, but again, the power of good food seemed to diffuse any cultural or religious objections to his sexual orientation.
“We’ve been to the toughest Muslim countries and been embraced with love,” he said.
Smith currently owns six restaurants and employs nearly 1000 people. The Florida native also splits his time in Chicago with his husband, their four children, three dogs, seven cats, 15 fish and a couple of turtles. He also spearheads a non-profit organization that teaches 90,000 disadvantaged students to cook. The charity has 28 locations in Miami-Dade alone.
South Florida fans will have the opportunity to meet Smith and talk food at the Pride Fort Lauderdale kick-off party on Friday, Feb. 24 at the B Ocean hotel. The chef was planning to be in the area for the famed South Beach Wine and Food Festival next week and agreed to support Pride at the urging of his other close friend, DJ Tracy Young.
Tickets for Sip, Savor & Sway, the Pride Fort Lauderdale kick-off party on Friday, Feb. 24 from 6:30 – 10 p.m. at the B Ocean Hotel, 1140 Seabreeze Blvd., are $40 in advance at PrideFortLauderdale.org and $60 at the door, if available. The event will also feature an open bar, heavy hors d’oeuvres by local restaurants, silent auction and music by DJ Adora.