With over 900 freshwater springs in the state of Florida, there are many places to choose from to relax and renew yourself while traveling. One of the best, and newest, is Chef Art Smith’s “Homecomin’” restaurant, at Orlando’s own “Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs!”
Chef Art is no stranger to the culinary world, being a two-time winner of the James Beard Foundation Award, known as the “Oscars of Food.” Additionally, his many fans know him from such television shows as “Top Chef Masters,” “BBQ Pit Masters,” and the “Today” Show. With talent, skill, and, most importantly, his gregarious and friendly personality, he has truly blazed a trail throughout the national food scene.
“I am a native Floridian… a sixth generation native Floridian. Opening my restaurant at Disney Springs is part of my own “Homecomin’.” With restaurants in such places as Chicago, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and others, one could wonder why Chef Art wished to return to the Sunshine State. His excited response if very clear, “Florida is one of the fastest growing states in the U.S.A…. it is the land of sunshine, but also the land of deliciousness! Florida has palm trees, beaches, and attractions, but it also has oak trees, dirt roads, and farmland. Florida produces wonderful fruits and vegetables, has an amazing cattle and beef industry, is a producer of fine poultry… and don’t forget about the awesome seafood!”
“Every great Chef must have a great repertoire, a great pantry, in order to cook great dishes, and here at “Homecomin’” I have been able to use all the wonderful things that Florida produces, the things I grew up with, all the fabulous family recipes… nothing gives me more joy than to take a wonderful cake my Grandma used to make and serve it to the thousands of guests we entertain here at the restaurant… that is success.”
Chef Art reminisces about his childhood in Florida, and how some of life’s lessons can help to shape you for the long term. “I grew up on a farm, and I wanted to take piano lessons… boys were supposed to work on the farm, but I discovered the piano was a way of escaping that world. And, since I was a little ‘different,’ I would be a target for bullies. However, I learned rather quickly that if you fed the bully, he would go away or at least get nice… there are no angry people, just HUNGRY people! ‘Food’ became my mission, the revival, to capture people’s attention… if you feed someone a good meal, they will remember you, and I have been very fortunate to take the food I love, the comfort foods, and make it not only for my family, but also for the world… especial here at Walt Disney World!”
Chef Art was private chef to none other than Oprah Winfrey for a decade, and during his tenure with her, he met and fed a wide variety of people, from Presidents to Movie Stars, and even such world-renowned public figures as Nelson Mandela and his holiness, the Dali Lama. “I believe that if there is something you love, others will love it, too… nothing is more humbling and makes you feel so good as when others appreciate what you do!”
“One thing piano has taught me is how important it is to ‘perform’ and that the ‘show always goes on!’ The first thing you learn in piano is that if you make a mistake, you keep going, and it is the same thing in the culinary world, you have to have courage and be present in what you do, for you are sharing bits of your life, we are all giving bits of ourselves, so we should never be afraid to make a mistake, fail, or begin again. That is truly how we find the path to success.”
Chef Art has a true love for humanity, and has always been a big believer in philanthropy and wanting to help people. In 2003, with support and urging from his husband, Jesus Salgueiro, Chef Art co-founded “Common Threads,” a charity geared towards teaching cooking and nutrition programs to help prevent childhood obesity and reverse the trends of generations of “non-cookers,” reducing the reliance on fast foods. Designed as a hands-on, family-centric outreach to low income and urban communities across America, “Common Threads” empowers children to eat healthy, make life-improving behavioral changes, and celebrate culture through food. “We live in an age of ‘conscious consuming…” we want to make choices that are best for our family, and we want our lives and other’s lives to be better. ‘Common Threads’ has been able to teach kids not only about health, but also about getting together as a team… we started the program with only thirteen kids back in 2003, and this year we taught NINETY THOUSAND kids in nine states! As Walt Disney himself put it, ‘We, as humanity, share more in common than different,’ and it is this commonality that I believe we need to teach the generations to come!”
When asked how he became interested in opening a restaurant at “Walt Disney World,” Chef Art laughs and simply states, “Walt Disney knew what he was doing, his family had been coming to Florida for years, his parents honeymooned here, he loved Florida and believed it was the perfect location to build the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’… so I just convinced them it was the ‘Happiest Place on Earth for Fried Chicken!’ They had created a beautiful spring and I believed it needed a Florida inspired restaurant to complete the picture. ‘Disney Springs’ has captured the spirit of renewal that has drawn people to Florida’s many springs since before the time of the Conquistadors… families come here to renew their relationships… it is a ‘Homecomin’… so there you have it!”
Don’t miss your chance to dig into the “farm-to-fork” cuisine that showcases all the fresh flavors of Florida, found at Chef Art Smith’s “Homecomin’” at “Disney Springs,” in the beautiful “Walt Disney World Resort,” Orlando, Florida. As Chef Art puts it, you will walk in as a hungry guest, but you will leave as satisfied family member!