“Seventh generation — and I’m the only family member on my father’s side that actually left the state and I’m the only chef among all the police officers and people within the prison system, etc,” he said.
Though he is the only chef, Smith is not the only member of his family to learn their way around a kitchen.
“They could really cook and they all believed in the power of food,” he said. “You feed them, they come. You keep feeding them, they stay. You feed them a lot, you get what you want.”
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Smith went to school at Florida State University, though he admits he was not the best student and was flunking classes. However, he did take advantage of other opportunities at the school.
“I discovered something called an internship and so it was like a free pass out of school,” he said.
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Smith wound up interning at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.
“Then Disney came a calling and that was a harder sell. It took me, I remember at least three or four auditions before I got it,” he said.
Smith said the competition among his fellow interns at Disney was stiff.
“I went there and there were all these culinary students. They all thought they were a little fabulous. And so the chef of the former Empress Lilly threw this baking contest,” he said.
Smith said he was not a trained baker and learned by reading on his own.
“I entered it, and I beat them,” he said. “So I was like, ‘I don’t have to have a culinary education to beat other chefs.’ So I go back to school, still not doing great and the dean says, ‘You know Art, you’re a very nice guy. You’re a good cook, but you’re a terrible student.’ He said, You know, the governor needs some help. So I want you to go over there and help him out.’”
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It was in the governor’s mansion that Smith’s career really started to flourish. He began to prepare meals, not just for the governor, Bob Graham, and his wife, Adele Graham, but also for their guests — such as Mikhail Baryshnikov.
“It was not the highest paying job in my life, but what it did do — once you work for a head of state, you have something called security clearance,” Smith said.
This would pay dividends for the chef later in life, after he had made his way to Chicago.
“A very special guest came to Chicago and they could not find a chef to cook for her,” Smith said. “Because Scotland Yard would not approve any of the chef’s because they didn’t have the security clearance.”
This ultimately gave Smith the opportunity to cook for Princess Diana.
“If I hadn’t worked for the Grahams — if I hadn’t worked at the Florida governor’s mansion — I wouldn’t have the security clearance and I wouldn’t have been able to cook for her,” he said.
On the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Smith shares more of how he came up in the culinary world and eventually found himself as the personal chef to Oprah Winfrey. He also talks about his restaurant at Disney Springs and some of his signature dishes.
Please follow our Florida Foodie hosts on social media. You can find Candace Campos on Twitter and Facebook. Lisa Bell is also on Facebook and Twitter and you can check out her children’s book, “Norman the Watchful Gnome.”
Florida Foodie is a podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.