October 13, 2009 / 3:21 AM / 9 years ago

Chef Art Smith wields star power for charity

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - His cooking endeared him to TV talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, but it was the flowers chef Art Smith sent to U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama that enticed her and her husband to dine at his restaurant on Valentines’ Day.

Chef Art Smith speaks to participants during a cooking workshop in Singapore, October 4, 2009. REUTERS/Candida Ng

That is celebrity chef Smith’s explanation for what attracted the Obamas to his Chicago restaurant, Table Fifty-Two, one of the most sought-after restaurants in the president’s hometown and which specializes in southern American comfort food.

The Obamas, whom Smith said took home pecan pie, are the latest in a long list of famous names, including Nelson Mandela, the King of Sweden and singers Pink and Barbara Streisand, that Florida-native Smith has cooked for during his 30 year career.

“I do believe that with any type of art, exposure plays an important part in the consumption,” Smith told Reuters in Singapore, where he’s taking part in a lifestyle festival.

“Everyone loves to eat and what makes it even greater is when someone else that they admire loves it too. People love my fried chicken because Oprah Winfrey loves my fried chicken.”

Smith was Winfrey’s personal chef until 2007. His “Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family” cookbook won the 2002 prestigious James Beard Award while “Kitchen Life” bagged the Gourmand World Cookbook Award in 2001.

Smith is a firm believer in the value of food and family, and lately, he’s been harnessing his own star power to raise money for charities, including his own “Common Threads” which aims to expose underprivileged children to other cultures through food and the arts.

The charity has so far served thousands of healthy meals to children, which Smith says is the ultimate show of love for the next generation.

“I think all of us want to love children. But sometimes the way we love them, particularly the way we feed them, may not be the healthiest,” he said.

“If you want to get children interested in what they’re eating, a way of enticing them is to teach them how to cook.”

To date, Smith has raised $1 million through auction dinners, where minimum bids for a seat start at $10,000.

And while the credit crisis has battered many fine dining establishments in the United States and across the world, Smith remains unfazed by the downturn’s impact on his restaurants, Table Fifty-Two and Washington D.C.’s Art and Soul.

“People who have an appreciation for good food, as well as art and music, will always be there,” he explained.

“It’s all about simplicity, delicious fresh food. Everyone loves good food.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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