Photo: Iain Bagwell

"I found I am a more gifted chef on the vegetarian side." - Art Smith, award-winning chef, author, and restaurateur, Chicago

July 18, 2012

Art Smith is definitely walking the health walk these days. Restaurant owner and former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey, Smith had let his superbusy, food-focused lifestyle catch up with him a few years ago. Overweight, with chest pains and escalating type 2 diabetes, Smith was scared into rearranging his priorities and his plate. Now he's embraced a new life with energy and joy. Smith schedules healthy meals and exercise into each day (something he never did), and the results show: He's down 120 pounds. Blood sugar problems are in the rearview mirror. The most significant dietary change Smith made was eating less meat. "My weight loss was through a diet that was 95% vegetarian. I eat egg whites, some chicken, fish, and a little bit of red meat. I feel incredible. I'm more lively, and," he says, laughing, "nothing feels better than sexy."


  • Meat in the middle. Instead of going completely vegetarian one day, Smith goes two-thirds vegetarian almost every day. "It's really easy to eliminate meat from a couple of your daily meals," says Smith, who favors steel-cut oats for breakfast. Dinner is light, too, as he saves meat for midday. "I prefer to have meat at lunch because I have more time to work it off."
  • A salad a day. "My favorite salad is a roasted root vegetable salad. Root vegetables have a meaty flavor, they're substantial, and when you roast them, they have a natural sweetness. You can eat them hot, cold, or at room temperature with some arugula, kale, and mustard greens with a vinaigrette. This time of year, I do a great tomato and watermelon salad, too."
  • Rice and beans, please. "There's nothing better or more simple than pinto beans or black-eyed peas and rice. You can buy so many kinds of amazing rice. It just requires a little more TLC to cook because you want the rice to be a bit al dente in order to retain texture and flavor. I love black Himalayan rice, red rice, wild rice. I tend to like beans that retain their shape, so I'm more likely to use black or adzuki beans, butter beans, peas, or red beans."
  • Get creative with substitutes. "Meat substitutes are better than ever, and when you want the flavor and texture of meat, Gardein [a soy-based meat substitute] is a delicious way to get it. I served vegan unfried chicken to the Dalai Lama. We soak Gardein in cashew cream, batter it in multigrain panko and herbs, then bake it. It's a best seller at LYFE Kitchen [a restaurant Smith owns in Palo Alto, California]."
  • Take two on tacos. "Tacos are a perfect, kid-friendly option for any crumbled meat substitute. Mix in taco spices, and you don't even know you're not eating meat. Then just add lettuce, tomato, and guacamole. I also do a taco salad with multigrain tortilla strips on top that I bake until they're crispy."

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