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Q&A with JBF Taste America All-Star Art Smith

Maggie Borden

September 16, 2015

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We’re about to kick off the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America®​ national tour, traveling from coast to coast to savor and sample the best of the country’s cuisine. It seems only fitting that JBF Award winner Art Smith is one of this year’s All-Star chefs, as his restaurants encompass various aspects of American cooking from the California-infused LYFE Kitchens to the down-home comfort fare of Table Fifty-Two. Smith will whip up a feast at our Taste America: Charleston stop alongside fellow Beard Award winner Mike Lata and a roster of other local talent. In anticipation of his dinner we caught up with the culinary icon to find out his recommendations for his hometown of Chicago, what he’s dying to eat in Charleston, and where the globe-trotting chef is headed next.  

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JBF: What are you most looking forward to eating in Charleston?

Art Smith: Oysters and moonshine. I had the most amazing time at last year’s Charleston Wine + Food Festival, eating raw oysters and sipping ‘shine with locals at the Battery.

JBF: What food trend do you wish would end immediately?

AS: Our current obsession with pork.

JBF: Is there a technique or ingredient you just can’t get enough of right now?

AS: Five-minute meals.

JBF: What are some of your favorite bars and restaurants in Chicago?

AS: Grace, Yusho, GT Fish & Oyster, and Billy Sunday.

JBF: What dish or ingredient is your culinary spirit animal?

AS: Homemade biscuits, fresh from the oven, and buttered and drizzled with cane syrup.

JBF: What is your personal definition of Southern cooking? 

AS: Garden to kitchen to table.

JBF: How is the cuisine of the area you grew up in different from the cooking in Charleston?

AS: Charleston is lowcountry cooking, heavy on the seafood, and with lots of rice. Northern Florida is more about lots of garden vegetables, and chicken or pork with rice. The two areas actually share a rice culture.

JBF: Your nonprofit, Common Threads, teaches low-income children to cook healthy meals for themselves. What are some basic tips to help families fight childhood obesity and other diet-related illnesses?

AS: Most childhood obesity comes from eating too much processed food that is high in sugar and salt. As a new dad, I’ve tried to cultivate my kids’ young palates by having them start tasting fresh, low-process, low-sugar, and low-salt foods as early as possible. Kids watch grownups and start to eat like them, so our own habits matter. When we teach kids cooking skills they take it home and practice on their parents. 

JBF: Where do you try to shop for ingredients when cooking away from home?

AS: Farmers’ markets and small, independent neighborhood stores. Sometimes I even forage in neighborhood gardens, if I can.

JBF: What city is next on your "must-hit" list?

AS: I’m headed to Tehran in Iran for a Goodwill mission. I love Persian food and the Iranian people, so I’m looking forward to the experience.

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Get details about Taste America and buy tickets here. Follow the festivities on Twitter with #JBFTasteAmerica. You can also follow the adventures of #bittybeard, our portable homage to James Beard, as he travels around the country.

The James Beard Foundation's Taste America would not be possible without the support of these generous sponsors:

In Association The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

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