Art Smith

Oprah's chef answers our questions about feeding a family a healthy meal and his restaurant in Chicago.

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Bravotv.com: Were you a Top Chef fan before you appeared? What is it about the show that has you tuning in? I've been a fan of Bravo since the early days and loved there programing. Project Runway, has always been a favorite and when Top Chef came to be, I sold, "hooked, line, and sinker."

Top Chef clearly demonstrates not only what chefs do but what things they deal with personally and emotionally. I have always said food without a story is just not that interesting. These young chefs all have great stories. Food is very personal and being close to the creator is very important. The show also inspires people to cook! blogs_tc_408_09.jpg

Bravotv.com: Let's start with the Quickfire -- the chefs had to create the rice dish and Antonia's "rice salad" won -- had you ever seen this before? What do you think the key to winning this challenge was?
Rice, growing up in the South rice is a very important staple. My mother cooked it for me as a child. She would make me delicious rice and scrambled eggs and our version of paella, chicken and rice.

Today there are many great types of rice. I recently added Jambalaya to Table 5's. menu and it's been a HUGE hit. America loves rice.

A little cooked rice is a wonderful starter to a delicious simple meal.

I loved the winner's rice salad. Delicious, clean, colorful, and great texture. Everything that families love. We should eat more rice, whether long grain, brown, wild etc. Great meals start with kitchen food basics and rice is a wonderful start to a complete dish.
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Bravotv.com: Onto the Elimination Challenge -- the chefs had to create healthy dishes for a family of four on a $ 10 budget. What do you think is the biggest obstacle for families nowadays? Budget? Time? Health concerns?
Families?There are many reasons why it's hard for families. I think there needs to be more food education available to teach people what's good for them. I truly believe that parents want to do the best for their loved ones. Cost is a factor -- why does fresh have to be so expensive. Most farmers' markets are very far out of reach for most.

Many say it's time, and that is a choice we make. We choose to make time for our families.

Bravotv.com: Can you expand on your comments on your favorite dishes and least favorite?
Favorite dishes: I like anything cooked well. When the ingredients are fresh it takes very little cooking or fuss. The young chefs created many dishes, some were great some needed more LOVE. Food is love, because you can sure taste it.

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Antonia created a stir fry! OK -- we've all had it over and over again, but this one was delicious. Simple, familiar, and fun to eat.

Andrew, bless his heart! We all go to something safe when it comes to kids. Whatever you call it, Paillard or chicken nuggets, it's all the same "crack" for kids. We must learn not to use food like this to bribe kids to be good. I love fried chicken but we only serve it once a week.

Nikki: One pot wonders are music to my ears. I loved the flavors and also how it was served. Probably not kid-friendly, because it's too mixed up. Older kids like this dish.

Lisa, well, simply just had no flavor, plus I had issues with the chicken bones. I think we must be careful about sharp bones. My puppies don't get them and surely don't serve them to my kids.

Mark: I love curry and the dish had nice flavor but his attitude sucked!!! Again, food is love and bad attitude means nasty food.

Stephanie: Peanut butter, tomato, chicken, and couscous, actually sounds bad but tasted great. She put combinations together like a child would but it had great flavor.

I can tell you Antonia is a smart young lady who can cook! You go girl!!!
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Bravotv.com: Can you tell us a little more about Common Threads and its origin? How can people find out more/get involved?
Common Threads, was created from experiencing the aftermath of 9/11. Jesus Salgueiro, my partner, went to NY to help out and cooked for victims' families. We were taken to Ground Zero, to the International Victims Memorial. Jesus and I were so taken back by how many people of the international community lost their lives. We had written a NY Times best-seller Back to the Table, which struck a cord with America.

I came home and wrote Common Threads, "our world is a quilt its people the fabric, all join together by Common threads." The book was to show the world at the table.

The book was turned down and for one year it sat in my desk until a young girl called me up, Linda Novick, and she said, "Art I know you want to teach kids, and I said yes," I believe that your cooking classes could teach children about health-wellness, but most importantly their world. We started with 20 kids and along came an important man. He had a little girl that would not eat her vegetables and I said, "Let me try". I used a simple techinque my mother Addie Mae did with me, just simply showing the child by tasting the food that it's good.

We now through that experience have 1000 kids. We all as families want the best and the simple act of cooking a meal does wonders ... www.ourcommonthreads.org ... 12 locations in Chicago, 3 in LA, and 1 in Miami.

Bravotv.com: Also about Table Fifty-Two?
Table Fifty Two, 52 West Elm, Chicago, IL. Julie Latsko and I created a charming little restaurant in Chicago's Gold Coast. Oprah's designer Andre Walker and David Simmions designed this beautiful turn of the century cottage. We call it cottage chic. 26,000 guests in eight months. Our Contemporary American food with Southern undertones is the rage and reservations are into the fall. People love the shrimp and grits, goat cheese biscuits!

Bravotv.com: Anything else you'd like to add? Food is a wonderful way to share, and as we prepare it let's not forget why we are doing it -- to nourish and to show our love. Food is love!

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