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Author Spotlight: Donald “Chef D” Smith

Chef Donald J. Smith was born and raised in New Orleans, the heart and soul of Creole and Cajun culture. It was there that he learned the ins and outs of authentic Creole Cuisine at the feet of his mother and uncle. 


Chef Donald, known in culinary circles as “Chef D,” specializes in Creole, Cajun, and soul food. Chef D has owned several restaurants. His portfolio boasts preparing meals for various entities, including conventions, corporations, celebs like Barry Bonds, The O’ Jays, The Clark Sisters, and Miguel, and feeding the homeless and less fortunate. 


The New Orleans native is a natural-born, innovative chef.  Chef Donald has traveled the world and interacted with other first-rate chefs worldwide; he has had the rare opportunity to share his expertise and passion for good food with other chefs from countries like Brazil, Italy, and Spain. To enhance and broaden his knowledge and skills of Creole Cuisine and add a little professional twist to things, he attended Louisiana Vo-Tech and Delgado Community College, where he earned many Culinary Arts certificates. Through his company, Chef D Services, not only does he mix his own spices, for his spice line Yes Chef Gourmet Spices and Foods, but he has also written cookbooks, Donald Lukie Smith New Orleans Underground Chef (2020) and most recently, The Underground Chefs, for which he was the visionary author. 


Chef D has received many awards, including “Gumbo” competitions, and accolades. In 2018, he was voted one of Louisiana’s best chefs, and in 2020, he received the Culinary Excellence Award from the National Black Chef Association.  Last summer, Chef D was also named Culinary Ambassador for Louisiana for the National Black Chef Association. 


Outside of the kitchen, the chef is very active in his community and involved in various causes, spending days working at the Salvation Army. Chef Donald is the founder and president of Urban Chef Alliance, Founder of Cooking for Life5013c. Chef Donald now has 20-plus years of experience in culinary cuisine preparation under his belt. Finally, he is a member of the American Culinary Federation, the Association of African American Chefs, Jugs Social Club Krewe of NOMTOC, the National Black Chef Association, 100 Black Men, and Glad Tiding Men of Distinction.


Take a seat at the table with the chef below and learn more about his new book and passions and what he’s learned over his career.

Donald "Chef D' Smith

Fancy: You started cooking at an early age, but did you always aspire to be a chef?


Chef D: As a child, I used to say that I would be a chef, but then life happened and took me in other directions. However, in my mid 20’s, I got serious about my culinary career. 


Fancy: You have owned several restaurants in the past. What did you take away from those experiences? 


Chef D: I’ve learned that the simplest things can mean a lot in business. For me, it was letting go, because openly admitting to mistakes leads to trust but that was, and still is one of the hardest things to do. With your name and reputation on the line, I always wanted to make sure everything was up to my standards. My takeaway is becoming clear – train up to your standards and you’ll be fine.  


Fancy: Please tell us more about your latest book, The Underground Chefs


Chef D: I have other chef colleagues in the industry – in fact, they are really good friends of mine, and we would talk about the dishes that we prepared. Through many meetings and general discussions, I decided to come up with a cookbook to promote each of our signature dishes. It started out with 10 chefs in total, but in end, there were only four of us left from the original group. 


In the pages of this book, each contributing chef gives you a sneak peek into their passion and craft. You will learn a bit about their history and where their cooking began. Then you will be able to use their recipes to create some of the foods they love! You are sure to love this color-imaged recipe-packed cookbook from some of America’s best culinary Underground Chefs. 

The Underground Chefs book cover

Fancy: Are you working on any other book projects.


Chef D: I am currently seeking out other young African American chefs, females included, that may have an interest in having their recipes in a book for my next cookbook. I would love to collaborate with more of my sisters for this one. 


Fancy: Aside from food and cooking, we also know that you are passionate about the youth and giving back to the community. Why do you find it important to speak to the youth?


Chef D: For African Americans born today, perhaps the greatest challenge faced is overcoming structural barriers. African American children not only start behind their white peers economically, but they face obstacles that make them less likely to be able to catch up, and our youth hunger for attention. Creating a positive environment for them increases their chances to succeed. I remember a time working in a youth center in West Oakland when kids would come to the center just to have a safe space. It was a place where they can express themselves and talk about life issues at home, at school, or in society as a whole. The stories told by these kids were unimaginable at times and some stories were hard to digest even as an adult. 


Working with them I realized all of them just needed that one-on-one attention, a chance to speak on their feelings and help to process what issues they were facing. If our youth don’t have these important things and places to go – they turn to the streets. Our youth don’t start off in the streets, they end in the streets because there is nowhere for them to turn. I personally feel this is a society’s shortfall to our youth. We have to take some time out to spend and invest in them. In my opinion, it’s the greatest investment we can make. I can’t save them all but if I save one, I’ve done a great thing. Just think if we all just invest time in one youth how many would be saved. 


Fancy: Did you have any mentors growing up and what did you learn from them? 


Chef D: Absolutely! I was raised in the old school way where the village raised the child. I come from a pretty large family and back then family helped families. I too, like many of our youth today grew up without my father. My father spent much of my life in prison. I had uncles but one, in particular, that was more like a father but not exactly a mentor that I learned a lot from.  As a kid, you did what you were told, but more importantly, you respected the elders period. It wasn’t until 2000 that I can say I truly met my mentor Chef Leon West, and then in 2003, I met Bishop Jerry W. Macklin. These guys came into my life and for me, things started to look different. Life was beginning to look different. We spent countless hours, minutes, and seconds together just talking. Chef Leon passed away two years ago, and I still silently thank him today for the time invested in me. It certainly made a huge impact on me.  


Fancy: Out of the many hats you wear, which role do you enjoy most? 


Chef D: Being a grandpa! It’s the most important hat I’ll ever wear. It’s one of the joys of aging. Besides, there are no mistakes in grandpa’s eyes. Spending time with my grandchildren is a time when I cast all my worries aside and just breathe in their presence. 


Fancy: You are often on the go. How do you practice self-care?


Chef D: I make time for myself. I do things I love to do besides cooking. I often examine my values – focusing on the future instead of the past. I’m always trying to find time to relax when I can and focus on living a healthy lifestyle. I also attend therapy which really gives me peace of allows me to see things more clearly. As Black men, we go through so much but we bottle it all in because that is what society teaches us. Therapy was life-changing for me because it is a safe space to talk about things without judgment. I used to talk with my cousin but I realized that was not enough because those close to us can have biased opinions. I needed to speak with a professional. I think all men, particularly Black men should consider it because we too have lots of trauma that we have not processed. 


Connect with Chef D below. 

Website: https://www.chefdonaldsmith.com

Instagram: @chefdservices



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