B. Smith plans to cook, sign books in Market District
New York City restaurateur Barbara Smith's culinary travels began in her hometown of Everson, Fayette County.
"My mother cooked a little bit of everything, including Polish pierogies, German kielbasa and soul food," she says.
Smith credits the eclectic mix of ethnic cuisine as the inspiration for her cooking style and some of the recipes in her new cookbook, "B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style" (Scribner, $35), which she will share in Pittsburgh appearances this weekend.
When people ask whether she hails from the South, her typical reply is "No, I'm not from the South, but I'm from Southwestern Pennsylvania." The Southern influence in her recipes came from her family's roots in North Carolina and Virginia.
"Growing up, I never differentiated between Northern and Southern cooking," she says. "All I knew was the food we ate, and it was great. I thought people all over the country ate the way we did."
She didn't realize the differences until she traveled north to the "other side of Pittsburgh," where, for the first time, she saw cornbread stuffed inside a turkey "instead of inside my mother's iron skillet."
Smith attended modeling school while she was a student at Southmoreland High School and says her first "real job" was at Greater Pittsburgh International Airport where she worked as a ground hostess for Trans World Airlines. She moved to New York in the early 1970s to pursue a career as a fashion model, which included traveling with the Ebony Fashion Fair and being featured on magazine covers, including Mademoiselle.
She hosted a nationally syndicated/cable lifestyle television show, "B. Smith with Style," that aired in the United States and in 40 countries. She hopes to launch another TV show this year.
When Smith decided to open her first restaurant in 1986, she knew exactly the type of cuisine she wanted to feature. Her travels had provided her with many different culinary experiences, which she incorporated in her menu, along with the Southern influence.
"I did my homework," she says.
Besides the restaurant in New York City's Times Square theater district, two other locations followed — in the Beaux-Arts Union Station in Washington and in Long Island Hampton Village, Sag Harbor, New York. Her husband, Dan Gasby, oversees operations for all three B. Smith restaurants.
She works with retailers such as Bed Bath and Beyond and in fall 2009 introduced her B. Smith Home Collection of furniture and home-decor items at the High Point Market trade show in North Carolina.
Her new cookbook, the third she has written, offers new twists on classic Southern dishes, such as Duck Jambalaya, Fried Green Tomatoes with Roasted Pepper Aioli and Red Velvet Cake Roll with Peanut Butter Frosting. Some unusual recipes are for Roast Turducken Roulade, Alligator-stuffed Eggplant and Fancy-Dressed Chitterlings.
"When I was growing up, chitlins were always on the table New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and any other time my parents had a taste and the time to prepare them," she says. Today, the delicacy can be purchased cleaned and precooked, because the cleaning process is time-consuming.
Smith is focusing more on lighter dishes that cut calories without compromising taste and has adapted some of her recipes to feature healthier ingredients. One of them is her Oven-Baked Herbed Chicken that she says is just as satisfying as fried chicken, but with less fat and a tangy flavor from a low-fat buttermilk marinade.
Even though some of the desserts she has created for her restaurants — like a popular Bourbon Street Bread Pudding with Sweet Bourbon Sauce — might not be the best choice for dinner guests who are dieting, she offers low-cal options, such as Fat-Free Mango Ice Cream with Mango Sauce made with a sugar substitute, fat-free evaporated milk and yogurt.
In the introduction to her new book, Smith says she loves the way Southern food evokes warm memories of her childhood. "There's nothing like seeing Dan and our daughter, Dana, light up when something Southern is on the table," she writes. "It makes me the happiest gal from Southwestern Pennsylvania."
Smith plans to demonstrate her Sweet Potato Salad with Orange Maple Dressing and Roasted Plum Tomato Soup during her Pittsburgh visit.Additional Information:
What: Personal appearance, cooking demonstration and cookbook signing
When and where: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Giant Eagle Market District, Shadyside; 3-5 p.m., Giant Eagle Market District, Robinson