World Chefs: Art Smith shares weight-loss tips in latest book

By Richard Leong

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Celebrity chef Art Smith, who shed 100 pounds (45 kg) after being diagnosed with diabetes three years ago, shares his weight-loss tips and healthy recipes in his newest cookbook, "Art Smith's Healthy Comfort."

Smith, known for his Southern-inspired cuisine, has six restaurants dotted around the United States, including Table Fifty-Two in Chicago and New York's Joanne Trattoria, which is a joint venture with the parents of pop star Lady Gaga.

Before opening his own restaurant the Florida native spent 10 years as the personal chef of media mogul and actress Oprah Winfrey. He has also cooked for President Barack Obama and other world leaders.

Smith, 53, spoke to Reuters about healthy living, losing a television job and cooking for former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Q: There are so many diet cookbooks out there. Why did you decide to do one?

A: With this book, it was first one that the publisher allowed us to include calories counts in. Before they wouldn't do it ... That showed how people have changed. When they asked me to write another book I said I don't want to do a diet book. I want to show people more of a lifestyle, and how I eat and how I would like to eat. And what I did was that I put together a lot of delicious, healthy recipes.

Q: What were your food nemeses?

A: When I was diagnosed with adult diabetes, the doctor said, 'Control your diet or I have to put you on medication.' So I went on medication rather than address the diet. I did that for a year or so but I wasn't getting better. One of the biggest problems with my diet was that I would use sugar and caffeine to keep my energy level high.

I am a bit of a high-strung person. I would be drinking six packs of diet sodas everyday and eating huge amounts of food at night because I hadn't eaten anything else during the day.

Q: So your diabetes came at a crossroads in your life?

A: At 49, I saw myself in a not very good place with my health. I've cooked for billionaires, celebrities and all kinds of people. I was used to cooking food more on the healthy side for them. I have been doing it for years. Whatever diet they brought to me, I did it for them. I never liked diets. I don't think they will work.

The word diet and the word gourmet really bother me because they segregate people from the table and from food. One is like 'I'm not going to eat enough' and the other one is too fancy to eat. I felt like I wanted to bridge the two together because I want to show people that they could have their health and feel comfortable about it.

Q: Do you think your weight loss affected your image?

A: I literally lost a television show with a major cable news network because of my weight loss, because they wanted a heavy-set chef just eating food across America, and I wouldn't do that. I'm not going to be one of the types who is going to eat 50 doughnuts. That's not the type of message I want to put out there.

Q: You have cooked for former South African President Nelson Mandela. What did you make for him?

A: I cooked for Mr Mandela three times. The first time I cooked for him, Miss Oprah said, 'Mr. Mandela will come and visit.' I don't get star-struck but I was pretty star struck. I called his chef and asked him what he liked. He said he liked oxtail and he liked biriyani (an Indian rice dish).

Then Oprah called me and I was such a mess. At 35,000 feet or wherever they were in Oprah's jet, she said Madiba (his clan name) just wanted to tell you the oxtail was pretty stellar. "Did we pack any on the jet?" I just feel grateful that I had the opportunities to cook for him and he enjoyed it.

Unfried Chicken with Roasted Brussels Sprouts (serves 4)

For the chicken:

1 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon Louisiana Hot Sauce or other hot sauce

4 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, cut in half

1-1/2 cups multigrain or whole wheat panko bread crumbs

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne

1-1/2 teaspoons onion powder

1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon paprika

For the Brussels sprouts:

16 Brussels sprouts, cut in half

1-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the garnish:

1 lemon, quartered

To prepare the chicken: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a mixing bowl, mix the buttermilk and hot sauce. Submerge the chicken pieces in the buttermilk and soak in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour but no more than 24 hours. In a gallon-size plastic bag, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, black pepper, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder and paprika. Seal the bag and shake until well mixed.

Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and transfer directly to the bag with the bread crumb mixture. Shake the bag until the chicken breasts are evenly coated with the bread crumbs. Remove the chicken breasts from the bag and lay flat on a nonstick baking sheet. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Bake the chicken for 20 to 25 minutes or until just cooked through.

To prepare the Brussels sprouts: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place Brussels sprouts in a medium mixing bowl, toss with the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the Brussels sprouts in a medium ovenproof baking dish and roast for 20 minutes or until caramelized and tender.

Divide the chicken and Brussels sprouts among 4 serving plates, and squeeze the lemon over the chicken.

Per serving: 427 calories; 12 g fat; 3 g sat fat; 79 mg chol; 349 mg sodium; 45 g carb; 6 g sugar; 9 g fiber; 40 g protein; 185 mg calcium

(Reporting by Richard Leong, editing by Patricia Reaney and Jackie Frank)