Catersource talked with Chef Art Smith about his thoughts on working with children, healthy eating, and his upcoming appearance during Catersource + The Special Event during the Closing General Session.
Catersource: How has food and culinary evolved during your career?
AS: Food and culinary has evolved, yet also stayed the same. I never changed my style. By staying true to my roots, my career evolved. My love of food came from my upbringing with lots of very talented loving cooks. Seeing how they brought our family together really inspired me.
CS: Can you describe your background in catering?
AS: It’s made my life. I’ve catered since I was 18 years old. My restaurant business was founded on my parties in my home. Even at my age now, catering has always been my bread and butter. For me, doing the parties is one thing, but having a team that knows what they’re doing is the secret to success. Catering is one of those businesses where the ability to take food and transport and create this atmosphere is magic in itself. During my time at Disney*, I saw first-hand how Disney manages and creates like no other. There’s no better people who can make it happen. It’s truly an art, so how do you create that magic? It doesn’t matter if it’s in a home, or a stadium, or a hotel ballroom, people are seeking that feeling, that community spirit, that connection so they don’t just feel like they’re at a big noisy party. By creating that magic, you’re using food and experience to connect people. You should always have a parachute, and my parachute has always been the fact that I can cook, and that I can throw a party. A good party will save you.
CS: How would you describe your outlook on your career?
AS: The whole part of doing great business is knowing the client. You have to plant the seed for great business, you can’t go in for the kill at first, you have to seed it. People remember you regardless of it’s good or bad, so make sure it’s always good.
CS: Can you speak to why your charity work (with both Common Threads and Kids Café) is important to you?
AS: Our world is a large quilt and its people are the fabric—colorful swatches of beautifully woven material—all joined together by these common threads: family and food. If we want a global future, we must do this because as our world is getting smaller and smaller. Food is love; it brings us together. People care a lot about the fact that you give back and they want to know it’s coming from a good place. It’s accountability now.
CS: Why is it important to expose children to different cultures, like through Common Threads?
AS: Our mission at Common Threads is to educate children on the importance of nutrition and physical well-being, and to foster an appreciation of cultural diversity through cooking. We help bridge cultural boundaries and strengthen our global family by teaching children about their similarities and differences in the warm comfort of the kitchen. When we sit down at the table, we all speak the same language.
CS: In regard to Kids Café, why was targeting children and healthy eating habits something you are passionate about?
AS: My mother Addie Mae taught me this: You got a problem? Feed it. Hunger is the main beginning of most problems. There are no angry people, just hungry people. If you want to get children interested in what they’re eating, a way of enticing them is to teach them how to cook. Kids Café has morphed into a healthy cooking program that has reached over 120,000 kids. Restaurants come and go, but changing a child’s life has a permanent impact and lasting value.
See Art Smith live
At the Closing General Session on the tradeshow floor, Smith will wrap up the 2023 Catersource + The Special Event conference and tradeshow on Thursday morning, March 30th at 9:00 a.m. with his session Creating a Brand. The Closing General Session is included in the purchase of any pass, from All Access to tradeshow only.
CS: I know diet and healthful eating is very important to you, why?
AS: Well, it’s more about living a sustainable, balanced life than diet. You probably don’t go to a Southern restaurant to eat healthy, but if you’re having fried chicken, balance it with a nice salad. And Southerners eat more vegetables than anyone can possibly imagine.
CS: How have you applied this philosophy to your own life?
AS: Balance in all things is key!
CS: How has healthful eating impacted your own health, specifically in regard to your diabetes?
AS: Eating properly and having great medicine and a great doctor is the key. When I was first diagnosed, I went on a diet and lost 100 pounds. If you’re careful, diet and medication can reverse [a slide into diabetes]. I’ve been very fortunate with that. Most people eat too much processed food and consume too much white sugar. Now I’m running marathons.
Are you thinking about joining us in Orlando? Hurry up! Catersource + The Special Event offers multiple registration packages for catering and events professionals at a low price. You will enjoy a full week of spirited people, ideas, and trends shaping the catering and events industry. Catersource + The Special Event Conference & Tradeshow 2023 is the ideal opportunity to meet live with your industry peers, create new business relationships, and learn powerful strategies for a successful 2023 and beyond. Register now before prices increase on March 3. Register with The Early Bird Rate
CS: What is it like cooking for high-profile clients (i.e. politicians and celebrities)?
AS: Busy people don’t like busy food! People who affect the world don’t live by the Michelin Starred guide. Whether I’m cooking for my neighbor or Nelson Mandela, the formula is always the same; simple, comfort food. People say to me, ‘This reminds me of my mother’s cooking’ or ‘This reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking’—hook, line, sinker; we have caught them!
CS: What are some of the strangest requests you’ve gotten from your high-profile clients?
AS: What would probably surprise most people is the requests for simple, comfort foods: Campbell’s Tomato Soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.
CS: What unique challenges come with cooking for high profile clients?
AS: There is a great amount of trust, security, loyalty and respect! You’re expected to honor that code.
CS: How would you describe the current evolution of Southern cuisine?
AS: It’s evolved, but it’s gone back to its roots. People want authentic.
CS: What do you consider the best places to eat in the Orlando area?
AS: Boathouse, George’s Wine Bar, and Pizzeria Napoli.
CS: What is your favorite thing to cook?
AS: Soup and baking bread.
CS: What is your favorite thing to eat?
AS: Chocolate and homemade sourdough.
CS: What are some of the lessons you hope to bring to audiences during your closing keynote?
AS: Pay attention to the man behind the curtain and see and learn the magic. Food isn’t complicated. Remember food without a story doesn’t taste good.
* In 1981, Chef Art Smith was enrolled in the first Magic Kingdom College Program (now known as the Walt Disney World College Program). He now owns Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Florida Kitchen & Southern Shine Bar in Disney Springs and is the first alumni to have opened a restaurant on Disney property, he says.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and sources. The writer and sources are not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company, and this article is not authorized or endorsed by the Walt Disney company or any of its affiliates. All Disney-related trademarks are property of Disney Enterprises, Inc.