Vivacious restaurant owner, cookbook author and former model, B. Smith adds her own special spin to the idea of the culinary melting pot of the United States while representing Lawry’s “Cooking Up Culture” Program in L.A.
Each month of Lawry’s year-long series, “Cooking Up Culture,” highlights the cuisine of a different nationality. Home cooks are offered creative tips and recipes influenced by flavors from around the world, along with the selection of 30 easy marinades.
The idea of the program is to inspire families to get creative in the kitchen.
As a part of the program, Smith meets with culinary students from various schools. Smith national tour brought her to Los Angeles this week in recognition of Hispanic-American Heritage Month. The focus is Mexican cuisine.
In L.A., B. Smith attended the reopening ceremonies of the Dorsey High School culinary program facility, recently restored after being destroyed by fire and renovated with modern fixtures and other amenities. B. Smith was joined by students, Dorsey staff and local school district representatives at a special ribbon cutting ceremony and reception..
The event offered the beautiful, elegant B a chance to share her own expert spin on the concept of ethnic cuisines. She feels that “Basically this country is such a melting pot, yet no matter who you ask to think “Hispanic cuisine,” the answer is: ‘Mexican.’ And there are so many more: Cuban, Jamaican, Central American and even Spanish in the mix.
“And,” she laughed. “Everybody usually knows the main ingredients of Hispanic dishes as avocado, lime juice, cilantro and guacamole spices because everyone orders guacamole it religiously in Mexican restaurants. Even in upscale restaurants where chefs think to bring in outside influences, it has been more of the traditional flavors.”
B. explained the Lawry’s program to educate consumers in this way. “We are aware that people know chilies and chimichangas in this county. We’re trying to get people to incorporate new flavors or use traditional ones in new ways. “
“Lawry’s is also trying to expand the conception of ethnic foods in a creative, fun manner,” she reported. “In the past manufacturers funneled a lot of ethnic foods and flavors into a homogenous melting pot as their translation of ethnic foods. They only put on the shelves what they perceived “Americans” can handle, and it was not a very broad selection. And there were ironies along the way: Mexican food here in the United States is also probably more spicy than it is in Mexico.”
Veteran cookbook author Smith has very definite viewpoints about the area of seasonings and spices. “Spices, and specifically “the heat” of certain spices, are concepts that people are beginning to understand,” she carefully began, “and use.
“Cooks are beginning to notice and play with the subtleties and the combination of flavors that can often be lost if you are not careful in the kitchen,” she added. “For example, every each kind of Tabasco sauce is different and you have to become aware of this when you are using them. And of course when you’re stuffing a fresh poblano pepper, it has very different properties than using something from a bottle.”
Restaurant owner Smith applauds the idea of chain outlets featuring ethnic dishes as a way to introduces new foods to the public. “Southern food is becoming hot again,” she mentioned, ”and no small part of this is due to the “Grits” dish at McDonald’s, “ she says. “And you can add Southern style chicken to the list. And when dishes are translated by a fast service chain, they are translated into a way that can be familiar.
“This has also been true at a white tablecloth level in Los Angeles since the early ‘80’s with pioneer Wolfgang Puck, “ she noted. “In fact, Southern California cuisine is really interesting because of the fusion foods and the focus on healthy products that have evolved out of the “California cuisine” concept. California has always taken the lead in terms of lighter, fresher and more sustainable food.
Lawry’s creative yearlong program goal is to introduce consumers to new ethnic foods and to induce them to try preparing them,” as B. described it. The Lawry’s line of 30 marinades makes is simple to experiment with new flavors and new ethnic cuisines.
Added B,, “And there are so many ideas with which to play with food flavors. You can mix a seasoning or marinade into the mayo you are putting on a sandwich and it puts it on another level. In the same way it changes a salad into some new and fresh.
“It’s also inexpensive,” B added. “And this is the perfect time to focus on this angle with the economy. It’s tough to use fresh spices because they are pricey and you need only a bit with each dish.
“And, “ she summed up, bringing the topic full circle to the student culinary program at Dorsey, it’s a great way to teach children about new flavors while including their familiar vegetables and protein.”
How did this Wilhemenia fashion model become such an expert? B. Smith laughed. “Food is our life – my family at home and with my husband. After I moved to New York, I missed my family cooking and so I starting trying to figure out how to duplicate it in my apartment.” At the same time I was learning about all sorts of new cuisines – and trying to duplicate it in my home kitchen. I remember the first time ate Japanese food and bought wasabi and fishes that were new to me.”
Smith sighed, “The reason I miss modeling the most is for the travel and the opportunity to try new cuisines. At one of the charity auctions my husband I bid on a week in New Orleans at each of the Brennan’s restaurant.” There was a pause in the conversation as B. seemed to visualize this treat in her mind.
Smith attributes her enormous success to simply “following my passion, and continually expanding my goals and vision of what I am. I love learning about the history of foods, of going back and seeing how a cuisine evolved. This is the way I keep learning and growing.”
Lawry’s schedule in Los Agneles is Mediterranean fare. In November, multi-ethnic cultural holiday recipes from around the globe will reign.
The program to date has covered African, Irish, Caribbean, Chinese, Italian, All-American BBX and Southwestern styles of cooking. Smith kicked off “Cooking Up Culture” in February in Detroit, where she focused on African cuisine, in honor of Black History Month.
Lawry’s expanded the program to include a charity portion. An original painting by renowned artist Annie Lee depicting the “Cooking Up Culture” theme was auctioned for charity, with proceeds benefiting America’s Second Harvest.
More information about “Cooking Up Culture,” including Lawry’s recipes are at: www.lawrys.com.
A seasoned culinary expert who has been recognized by Elle as one of America’s 10 most outstanding non-professional chefs, Smith is the owner of three successful B. Smith restaurants in New York, Washington, D.C., and New York.
The former fashion model turned restaurateur, television host, author, entrepreneur and entertainer extraordinaire is widely regarded as an expert when it comes to casual but elegant living, both in and out of restaurants.
For the past eight years, B. Smith had hosted the lifestyle television show “B. Smith with Style.” She also is a regular ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “The View,” and NBC’s “Today.”
B.'s flair for décor includes a bedding, tabletop and bath collection at Bed Bath & Beyond. Smith’s specialty serveware, launched in 2004, recently expanded with a variety of pieces for entertaining.
A native of western Pennsylvania, Smith started her career as a fashion model. She has graced the covers of 15 top magazines.
Smith is the author of two tabletop books on entertaining, the host of “B. Smart Tips for a Better Life” heard on New York’s WBLS-FM. She and her husband Dan Gasby have produced four television specials for TV One.