Jeff Smith (chef)

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Jeffrey L. Smith (January 22, 1939 – July 7, 2004) was the author of several best-selling cookbooks and the host of The Frugal Gourmet, a popular American cooking show which began in Tacoma, Washington, in 1973 and later moved to WTTW-TV in Chicago, where it aired nationally on PBS from 1983 to 1997.[1]

Jeff Smith
BornJanuary 22, 1939
DiedJuly 7, 2004(2004-07-07) (aged 65)
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Spouse(s)Patricia "Patty" Smith (1966–death)
Culinary career
Cooking styleGourmet

Early lifeEdit

Smith was born on January 22, 1939. He graduated from the University of Puget Sound (UPS) in Tacoma, Washington with a degree in philosophy and sociology in 1962, and then, in 1965, from Drew University Theological School in New Jersey, which ordained him a minister in the United Methodist Church. He served as a chaplain at UPS, then opened the Chaplain's Pantry, a deli and kitchen supply store in Tacoma, where he also offered cooking classes to the public.[2]

Smith met his wife, Patricia, when he was a graduate theology student and she a senior sociology major at Drew University. They married in 1966 and had two sons. Patricia is credited with originating the name "Frugal Gourmet".[3]


Smith launched his first cooking show in 1973 at KTPS (now KBTC) in Tacoma. Following a move to WTTW in Chicago in 1983, he became The Frugal Gourmet and gained national recognition. The show ran on PBS for 14 years, a total of 261 episodes. Smith was known for his ability to film his shows straight through, without pauses or re-shoots to correct mistakes.[4]

Smith with his long-time assistant and co-author Craig Wollam at Fante's Kitchen Shop (1992)

Over the course of his career he published numerous best-selling cookbooks, including The Frugal Gourmet (1984), The Frugal Gourmet Cooks With Wine (1986), The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American (1987), The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China, Greece, and Rome (1989),The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother (1990), The Frugal Gourmet's Culinary Handbook: An Updated Version of an American Classic on Food and Cooking (1991), The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections for Contemporary Living (1992), and others, written with his assistant Craig Wollam.

Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode with Smith in 1986

Smith was regarded as a "genius" by some, and a "tyrant" by others.[4] Kathy Casey, a Seattle Times food columnist and longtime friend of Smith's, described him as a knowledgeable and generous man who "...knew more about food and culture than anybody I know in the food world." She said he donated both money and time to charitable causes and helped individuals get started in the food industry, even after his retirement.[4]

Smith also had his share of detractors. Irena Chalmers, a faculty member at the Culinary Institute of America and president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, once described him as "the Frugal Gourmet, who is neither".[5] Chicago Tribune food and wine columnist William Rice wrote, "I've tried to cook his stuff, and let's say it was hit or miss. Some things worked and others didn't."[4] Newsweek writer Laura Shapiro criticized him as "a prime example of prominent cooks who may compromise their integrity by being paid to recommend food products and kitchen ware." She cited The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook as "...especially shocking ... the cookbook as infomercial".[5] In a 1992 Harper's Magazine article, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison ridiculed him as "...a purveyor of patronizing poppycock ... conveyed with the kind of mock anger that is always a mask for real anger."[2] Smith brushed aside such criticism: "Not many people read Harper's," he said. "That's a very small audience." He continued, "People criticize me for enjoying good food when I use the word frugal. Frugal doesn't mean cheap. It means you don't waste your money. They haven't read my books. They don't know the meaning of the word."[5]

Sexual abuse allegationsEdit

In 1997 seven men filed a civil lawsuit against Smith, charging him with sexual abuse. Six alleged that they were molested as teenagers in the 1970s while working at Smith's deli and catering service in Tacoma; the seventh claimed that he was assaulted in 1992, at age 14, after Smith picked him up as a hitchhiker.[6][4] Smith denied the allegations, and no criminal charges were filed, but he and his insurers settled the cases for an undisclosed amount in 1998.[3][7] The litigation ended his television career, though he continued his writing and charitable work.[4]


Smith died in his sleep on July 7, 2004 of heart disease at the age of 65. He was survived by his wife Patricia, and sons Channing and Jason, as well as daughters-in-law Yuki and Lisa.[4]



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