The first question that seems to crop when folk find out B. Smith sat down with the Defender is whether she’s as nice as she seems. Not only is she nicer than her television persona, the Western Pennsylvania native turned restaurant, lifestyle mogul is sm
Smith is traveling the country for Lawry’ Seasonings and demonstrating how eclectic and diverse her cooking can be. The tour, titled “Cooking Up Culture” features food of a different nationality every month for a year.
This is Caribbean month for the tour. Smith, whose husband, Don Gadsby is accompanying her on tour, is far from being a standoffish celebrity. The Chicago leg of her visit also found her talking to culinary arts students at Kennedy-King Community College’s Washburne Culinary Institute.
Smith counters critics who maintain that there aren’t as many culinary jobs as there are graduates. She said those pondering a culinary career should look beyond the cooking aspect of the degree because there are job openings for food photographers, food stylists, and at corporations.
She said she relayed to the students that high end restaurants traditionally have not been a “hospitable place for people of color” but that is changing. She added she felt “really good” after the Washburne visit and it was obvious “the students are looking for someone to give them guidance and inspiration.”
Smith, a former model, epitomizes determination. One of her mantras is she will “stand on a mountain of no’s for one yes.” Despite being in a white male dominated industry, Smith has excelled in the restaurant arena. But the accomplishment is one she relates with a large dose of humility as she lists the locations and starting dates of her eateries in Washington, D.C.; Sag Harbor, New York; and New York City.
As one who is extremely attentive to detail, Smith has designed her restaurants to be more than a dining experience, which very well may be the reason celebrities and lovers frequent them. She recalled that there have been scores of marriage proposals over the years. Her New York eatery is where Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford met.
They eventually married in that restaurant. Smith’s life is the definition of multi-tasking as she has a line of furniture due out this month and she has a host of endorsements. Elimintating female sports and entertainment celebrities, Smith is the best known Black female other than Oprah Winfrey. The importance of being a role model is not lost on Smith, who noted that a beautician she knew during childhood propelled her to enter the business arena.
“Sally Johnson would travel from town to town to do hair. She wore slacks, drove her own car and got paid in cash,” Smith recalled. Today’s young Black boys and girls would do well to pattern part of their lives after Smith’sûwho started her own 4-H club when denied access to the main one in town.
Although she was denied a role in her high school, she successfully pursued a modeling careerûbuoyed by the models she saw in Ebony and JET magazines. She roundly proclaimed that “you can learn to do what you put your mind to.” Part of her success stems from a tireless work ethic.
Smith works seven days a week and conducts meetings in her restaurants, allowing her to assess the employees’ performances, the cooking and conduct business. Even when she’s home Smith is workingû tending a garden that is planted with ideas for new food dishes in mind. And another element of success is “finding the right people to do the job.”
Her Pennsylvania roots exposed her to a variety of ethnic cooking, but her mission continues to be “elevating southern cooking to haute cuisine.” Everyday cooks and many professionals don’t push the envelope enough, according to Smith.
That may help explain her penchant for dishes such as black-eyed peas fritters, kielbasa and collard greens, “chittlings” in puff pastry, and quail eggs with Creole cornbread. Smith, not a frequent visitor to Chicago, said she has had countless inquiries and requests about opening one of her restaurants here.
She and Gadsby are currently in negotiations for a spot in Atlanta and when that deal is done the focus will shift to Chicago.
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