It’s hard to forget Chef Art Smith. A free and creative thinker from an early age, Art Smith has combined his unique way of cooking with a culinary passion and an unforgettable personality to craft a multi-faceted, successful career.
Currently, an award-winning executive chef, co-owner of five restaurants, cookbook author, former personal chef to celebrities such as Oprah and former Florida governors Jeb Bush and Bob Graham, Top Chef Masters contestant, and culinary activist Art Smith is a busy man. Through it all, he has remained true to his core principles of being authentic, transparent, and never entering into anything for the money.
In our interview for the February Issue of Entrepreneurial Chef Magazine, Smith told us about personal branding, the importance of developing personal relationships, and the advice he’d give to younger chefs. Below are a few key points from the entire interview in the issue that can be downloaded here.
Build (& Nurture) Relationships
Smith places a premium on developing and fostering relationships. “When you work for fancy people,” Smith confided, “they all know each other.” He has used this to his advantage by networking with people he met, and maintaining those relationships. He admits it took time – his most recent restaurant at Disney World came about due to a 30-year relationship – but believes that without the relationships he has, it would have been impossible. “I just emailed the CEO of the Walt Disney company, and said ‘You need a Southern restaurant,’ and poof, here we are. But I had cooked for them and they knew who I was and who I had cooked for, so they paid attention to [what I said].”
Smith’s relationship with Oprah also led to a business partnership with Lady Gaga. “I met her backstage at the Oprah show,” he said, “and just told her how much I liked her.”
Be Courageous Enough to Ask
No amount of networking would have been useful without Smith’s belief that you should never be afraid of asking for what you want. Without the courage to do so, Smith is well aware that he may well have never started his own restaurant, much less co-owned five.
Incorporate Humor in the Mix
It is clear that Smith has the talent and business acumen to back up his projects – thus far he has never had to close a restaurant – but arguably, so do many chefs. What is it that has charmed millions of Americans, politicians, and even Oprah Winfrey, one of the most powerful and influential women in America? When speaking with Smith, the answer is clear. He is funny, engaging, and charming. He is unapologetic about who he is and what he believes in.
Be Memorable (& Then Some)
Smith himself is aware of the importance of presenting the world with his true personality. “I don’t have a publicist, I’m my own publicist,” he told us, “I do my own social media, I don’t like people talking on my behalf, I do all my own posts, everything.” In a world that is obsessed with appearances, Smith sticks to what’s real. He applied this approach to appearing on Top Chef Masters. The opportunity fell into his lap through his association with Oprah and he wholeheartedly accepted. “Most chefs won’t do [TV competitions like that] because they don’t want to look bad. But it’s not about looking bad,” Smith said, “it’s about being funny and memorable.”
Leverage Your Authenticity
Although he admits that he approaches everything from a marketing perspective – Smith usually does competition shows not for the money, but the exposure – his personality has won over millions of Americans. “People love it,” he said, “people love to see your human side. People want to consume something they’ve heard of, and what to consume something made by someone they love. And they want that funny chef.” Smith doesn’t mind being entertaining; he sees it as a way to distinguish him from other chefs. He points out that most chefs are “entirely too serious.” “It’s boring,” he continued, “there are only a few chefs that can pull that off. I’m not trying to be Thomas Keller or any of these big chefs, I’m just trying to be Art.”
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