JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chef Art Smith prepares Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Coconut-Ginger Sauce during a demonstration at Macy's at Ala Moana Center Friday. Assisting him is sous chef John Anthony Sinclair. CLICK FOR LARGE
Seeing stars in the kitchen
Oprah Winfrey's chief party planner says everyone enjoys a good meal
» On food and family
» An Easter Seals' success
CHEF ART SMITH has fried chicken for Julia Roberts, simmered oxtail curry for Nelson Mandela, grilled chicken burgers for Oprah Winfrey's entire audience.
He's now planning Winfrey's party for presidential candidate Barack Obama.
As Winfrey's chief party planner, a best-selling cookbook author, frequent guest on the "Today Show" and judge on "Iron Chef America," Smith cooks in rarified celebrity circles.
He's found, though, that everyone appreciates a good meal -- no matter how humble.
"People have all these things in their minds about the rich and the famous and how they live. The truth is they want the same things as other people want -- things they are familiar with," Smith says.
"The governor of Florida -- he found comfort in grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup."
That would be former Gov. Bob Graham, now a U.S. senator. Smith was chef in the Florida governor's mansion just after earning his culinary stripes in the 1980s. Thus began a career among the famous and powerful.
"Good cooking always takes you back," he says.
Smith, in town last week to cook for "Chefs du Jour," an Easter Seals fundraiser, first connected with Winfrey 10 years ago, when he started preparing lunches for her and her producers. "One day she called me in her dressing room and she said, 'Art, I need a chef ..." and he began cooking in her home.
"My mother always taught me -- honey, if opportunity knocks at the door, always answer, because it doesn't come back."
He soon began appearing on "The Oprah Show," cooking alongside such guests as Luther Vandross, Halle Berry and LeAnn Rimes. Once he and the band Earth, Wind & Fire prepared chicken burgers on 10 grills set up on the street -- enough for the whole studio. "Ms. Winfrey thinks it's cruel to cook in front of the audience and don't give them food."
His favorite celebrity moment: "Ms. Winfrey called and said, 'Art?' and I said, 'Yes?' and she said, 'Mr. Mandela is coming to see us.' "
He called Mandela's chef for help planning a curry-based meal. When he met the South African leader, Smith said, "I was just ... I could not even talk."
Later, Winfrey commented on how he'd finally been star-struck. "She said, 'Well, honey, I didn't know whether you were going to curtsey or bow to him.' "