Chef Art Smith, the fomer personal chef of Oprah Winfrey, whose culinary empire includes Atlanta's Southern Art at the InterContinental hotel in Buckhead, prepared a most meaningful meal in June. Following the death acclaimed poet, author and activist Maya Angelou, Winfrey requested that Smith prepare a feast of Southern comfort classics to be shared by mourners celebrating Angelou's life at Wake Forest University, where Angelou had been a professor.
"Dr. Maya Angelou, President Nelson Mandela, and many more were introduced to me by Ms. Oprah Winfrey" during his time as Winfrey's chef, Smith told the AJC. "My favorite memory was the celebration of her 75th birthday in Key West Florida, on Drum Island. Wendy Kromer (Martha Stewart's acclaimed cake maker) and I created the largest hummingbird cake ever. We had a local glass blower blow hummingbirds to decorate the cake, which was festooned with thousands of handmade flowers."
Winfrey was in Atlanta working on the movie "Selma" when Angelou passed away at age 86, and received the sad news while on the set.
"She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life," Winfrey said in a tribute to her friend she posted online.
Winfrey and Smith collaborated on the meal to be served after Angelou's memorial service, where those celebrating her life included former President Bill Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama. Smith and four members of Southern Art’s culinary team prepared buttermilk fried chicken with whipped potatoes, garlic green beans and red pepper gravy, Coca-Cola glazed ham, collard greens, mac and cheese and succotash, with coconut cake for dessert.
"The menu was selected, as always, by Ms. Winfrey," Smith said. "Every event that I've done from the Legends Ball to President Obama's event at Promise Land are momentous. This has to be the most solemn event I've done in my career. She was one amazing women who gave so much to the world. Her past became her words. She will live on forever, but I will miss her beautiful smile and that special voice as she so eloquently pronounced her words."
More recently, Smith prepared dinner for Winfrey and members of the "Selma" team, including star David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay while the movie was filming here. "Selma" filmed downtown at the Georgia State Capitol, and at other metro Atlanta locations including the Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art. Winfrey plays a role in the movie , will have a limited U.S. release on Christmas Day and will open everywhere on Jan. 9, 2015.
"When Ms. Winfrey was in residence at the InterContinental Hotel Buckhead, she gave me that smile, and I knew we had a party to do," Smith said of the "Selma" soiree. "After all these years we know each other very well."
Smith is proud of his team at Southern Art , including Chef Didier Lailheugue, chef de cuisine Keoko Turner and mixologist, Tokiwa "Toki" Sears, and said he takes pride in preparing meals for occasions happy and sad.
"As you know in the South we celebrate births, and we celebrate deaths, and it's always with food," he said. "Food is a common thread and in the South, it's a part of our soul."