Art Smith's Secret Weapon? Cooking Like Mom

It all comes down to one thing: "I focus on simplicity," says Art Smith.

ByABC News
June 24, 2009, 6:56 PM

July 15, 2009— -- Art Smith has cooked for luminaries like Nelson Mandela, the Obama Family and Oprah Winfrey, owns top restaurants in Chicago and Washington D.C., and started a ground-breaking charity for children, but this award-winning chef has his own very personal definition of success.

"Success is when you can take your own mother with you on a trip, okay?" he recently told Nightline.

For Smith, food and family life have always been closely intertwined. Born and raised on a farm in Jasper, Fla., Smith grew up in an atmosphere where food was abundant and played an integral part in any gathering.

"We always went to church which I didn't mind but I particularly liked the fact that there was always food," says Smith. "I knew at the end of this very long winded sermon either there was going to be food at the church or we were going to go to my Grandmother Georgia's or Grandmother Mabel's and it was going to be this laid out fabulous, wonderful meal."

Smith credits his mother, Addie Mae -- whom he calls "my biggest confidante"-- for teaching him about the finer points of hospitality and setting an example with her gregarious personality. "My mother has this incredible way with people. She is the ultimate baby kisser!"

CLICK HERE for Smith's favorite recipes.

The women of his extended family also played a pivotal role in shaping his destiny. "These steel magnolias that I grew up with, [they] really knew the importance of food." He considers his nanny Leela Curry, his second mother. "Not only did she teach me about delicious food in particularly from African American culture but also she taught me the importance of love."