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Chefs Make Change: Art Smith for Common Threads

Art Smith became famous as Oprah Winfrey’s health-minded personal chef, and now he’s teaching underprivileged kids about nutrition and well-being through his charity Common Threads.

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Common Threads teaches low-income children about physical well-being and cultural diversity through the simple act of cooking and sharing a healthy meal. Its after-school programs in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Washington, DC, reach more than 6,000 people each year. commonthreads.org.

On Launching Common Threads “We founded Common Threads after the shock of 9/11, which made us aware of the importance of bringing children together and teaching them to celebrate different cultures. My husband, Jesus, wanted to teach people in our Chicago community, and I said, ‘Well, what are we going to teach?’ He said, ‘You’re going to teach cooking and I’m going to teach art.’ ”

Biscuit Power “The first class I ever taught was on biscuits and corn bread. Regardless of where you are in the world, you have bread. I told the kids in the class, ‘You know, I’m from the South, and biscuits and corn bread are very much a part of our daily life. Every mother, every grandmother knows how to make them, and they share them with their families, and everyone eats together.’ ”

Lasting Lesson “Kids watch what the people around them are eating. If you won’t eat something, they sure as heck won’t, either.”

Success Story “One of the first times I felt like we were really getting someplace is when a woman looked at me and said, ‘You’re that chef who…’—I was thinking she was going to say, ‘You’re that chef who cooks for Oprah Winfrey.’ Instead, she said, ‘You’re that chef who taught my kid how to cook.’ ”

What’s Next “We’re hoping to expand to New York in the very near future.”

His Chili Recipe for F&W “The turkey chili is a big favorite of Oprah’s. It’s got some spice, which I think kids love just as much as adults do. Kids like food with flavor.”

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