By Diane Anderson-Minshall
Originally published on Advocate.com July 20 2012 5:00 AM ET
He's funny and flirty and, yes, there's about 100 pounds less of him these days. But that doesn't make gay chef Art Smith any less sexy. A fan favorite from Bravo's first season of Top Chef Masters (largely just for being himself), Smith is back on the show's fourth season (premiering Wednesday) along with some tense competition.
The Advocate: The first episode and the interstitials make you seem rather flirty. Is that how you are in real life?
Art Smith: Is chef Art Smith flirty? Am I a card carrying gay man? [Laughs] Yes I am a very flirty person — my whole family is flirty, where do you think I learned it from? I love people and I have a soft spot for Latinos. My husband, Jesus, can bat his baby blues at you and you will do anything. [Laughs] Well, let me fry up some chicken for you and you will want to move away with me.
What’s your best food memory?
Well, for everybody it’s what Mom made, but my husband of 13 years. Artist Jesus Salgueiro, eyes like emeralds, but a sting like a bee? LOL He made me the most delicious aprea's, "Venezuelan Corn Cakes," that he handmade and grilled and filled with delicious egg and cheese for breakfast recently in our recent 100-degree weather. Chef Art forgot to air condition his fancy kitchen, but his sweet husband being a tropical boy himself made me a delicious tropical breakfast that made his husband as hot as it was outside. Amore.
This isn’t your first go at Top Chef Masters. Does that give you an advantage?
No, it’s not my first ride on the pony, but my first was more about my coming out on Top Chef Masters 1. I mean, I was completely open about my sexuality on that first show. I’ve never been in the closet, but let’s say like most gay men I have many closets, and not all of them were open. I am grateful that Top Chef Masters 1 and 4 gave me an opportunity to be me. A funny American gay chef. You will see a lot of me and a lot of funny and you will see a lot of crying. People love it when I cry, and they won't be disappointed. Whether it’s my first or second, it’s a tough competition and I cook with some of the brightest culinary stars in America.
What’s the biggest surprise about doing the show?
That I was invited back to do it a second time. What I realized is that being me was something people loved. I became a fan favorite. Yes, I am a big gay former fat funny man but even with my new sexy [look] — because I was really scared to lose the fat and find the funny would go with it. Yes, I am flirty and a name-dropper but, hello, I know these people. [Laughs]
You lost a lot of weight. How did that affect your cooking?
Yes I lost over 100 pounds working with one of the sexiest hottest trainers in the world, Az Ferguson. I share him with a Duchess! Let’s put it this way, pretty will make you do a lot of things. Run and complete two marathons in a three-week time period; run in snow and stormy weather. I found my sexy and it has changed me in many ways. My attitude, the way I dress, and yes the way I cook. Trust me I am never abandoning fried chicken, and I love to bake, but I’ve learned most importantly how to take time for myself. I eat primarily a fish and vegetarian diet. Do I push it on others? No. Oprah Winfrey taught me not to do that! That when you cook for people and invite people in, you feed people. I am not their doctor, I am their chef. As Az flits around the world with the Duchess, Joey Thurman — another beautiful man —keeps me fit in Chicago.
Do you cook differently since your diabetes diagnosis?
Diabetes is a serious illness that millions of people deal with on a daily basis. I lost my father from diabetes, and it’s important to learn how eating a plant-based diet can really help reverse the symptoms in many cases. I reserved mine through cooking vegetarian based dishes, and including one hour of exercise a day. Since my blood sugar is normal, I still have a piece of chocolate every now and then. Chocolate is my weakness.
You’ve cooked for Obama and the King of Sweden and other heads of state. Anyone you’d love to cook for?
Honey, I’ve about ran out of people to cook for, but I would really love to cook for Prince William and Kate. Love them, and who doesn’t love a love story like theirs? I cooked for the late Princess Diana, and it would be so cool to cook for her son.