An Interview with Chef Art Smith

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I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Chef Art Smith, the celebrity chef known for his southern charm. He’s the author of numerous cookbooks,  a restaurateur, and was a contestant on Top Chef Masters. And let’s not forget, his rise to fame came courtesy of his former stint as personal chef to Oprah.

Chef Art  has been very public about his battle with diabetes and obesity and chronicles his journey to better health in his new cookbook, “Healthy Comfort.” He has also partnered up with pharmaceutical company, Merck, in their Taking Diabetes to Heart campaign.

Back in 2008, Chef Art weighed over 325 pounds. He didn’t exercise, had little energy, and was warned by his doctor that he was at risk for diabetes and heart disease. It took a health scare (he thought he was having a heart attack) and a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes to get him to wake up and take the necessary steps to changing his life. He had already lost his father and grandfather to diabetes; he did not want his fate to be the same.

Being diagnosed with diabetes scared Chef Art. He didn’t want to have a heart attack or stroke. He said that having a great doctor is one of the most important things you can do once diagnosed because he or she can remove the fear by educating you and helping you formulate a treatment plan. He learned how to monitor his blood sugar level, taking it numerous times a day. He knows that if his blood sugar level is running high, he can help lower it by drinking some more water, getting in some more exercise, and watching what he’s eating.

Being a professional chef, he figured cooking healthy meals would be a breeze. But as a southern gentleman whose staples included fried food and recipes with lots of butter and sugar, he knew that most of his southern favorites would have to undergo a major recipe renovation. The recipes in his new cookbook, “Healthy Comfort,” feature more vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, and rely on herbs and spices for flavor rather than fat and salt. He recommends for the home cook to remove processed food and include more whole foods. He understands that people don’t want to feel deprived or like they’re on a diet and they don’t have to if they find some great recipes, such as those in his new cookbook.

So what does a chef cook for himself? A typical day starts out with his “Art Start”: oatmeal with berries (fresh or frozen), and scrambled egg whites. Lunch is usually a salad with lean protein, and dinner is salad or vegetables with protein. And to drink? This former self-admitted diet soda addict (he used to drink a 6-pack a day),  now favors water, herbal tea, and iced tea to keep his body hydrated.

Chef Art also discovered that exercise is crucial for weight loss success and blood sugar level control. He used to run and has actually completed two marathons. Unfortunately all that running took a toll on his joints, so now he sticks with walking and boxing. He likes to mix it up to prevent boredom and feels that music is key to a great workout.

CHEF ART SMITH’S TIPS:

  • Have a great doctor who can remove the fear of your diagnosis and help put together a treatment plan that will work for you
  • Remove the processed foods; instead focus on whole foods
  • Have a great attitude
  • Stay active

Sweet Corn Soup with Cilantro

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  • 8 ears sweet corn, shucked
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into medium dice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock or water
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • salt
  • For the garnish: 2 limes, cut in half, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  1. Cut the corn kernels from the cobs, reserving the kernels and cobs separately. Preheat a large Dutch oven or soup kettle over medium heat. Add the oil and onion and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Stir in the corn kernels and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant. Add the stock or water, buttermilk, and reserved corn cobs and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the corn is very tender.Remove and discard to corn cobs and puree the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Season with salt.
  2. Divide the coup among 4 serving bowls. Squeeze lime juice over each bowl and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro.

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