Jeffrey L. "Jeff" Smith (January 22, 1939 – July 7, 2004) was the author of several best-selling cookbooks and the host of The Frugal Gourmet, a popular American cooking show which began in Tacoma, Washington in 1973 as Cooking Fish Creatively and later moved to WTTW in Chicago, and Natan Katzman's A La Carte Communications, where it aired nationally on PBS from 1983 to 1997.
Jeff Smith was born on January 22, 1939. He graduated from the University of Puget Sound
(UPS) in Tacoma, Washington
with a degree in philosophy and sociology in 1962, and then, in 1965, from Drew University
Theological School in New Jersey
, which ordained him a minister in the United Methodist Church
. He served as a chaplain at UPS, then opened the Chaplain's Pantry, a deli and kitchen supply store in Tacoma, where he also offered cooking classes to the public.
Smith met his wife, Patricia, when he was a graduate theology student and she a senior sociology major at Drew University. They married in 1966 and had two sons. Patricia is credited with originating the name "Frugal Gourmet".
Jeff Smith launched his first cooking show in 1973 at KTPS
in Tacoma called Cooking Fish Creatively
. Following a move to WTTW
in 1983, he wore a striped apron and became The Frugal Gourmet
and gained national recognition. The show ran on the Public Broadcasting Service
for 14 years, a total of 261 half-hour episodes. In 1990, Jeff Smith took The Frugal Gourmet
to Natan Katzman's A La Carte Communications until the show was cancelled in 1997.
Over the course of his career he published numerous best-selling cookbooks, including The Frugal Gourmet (1984), The Frugal Gourmet Cooks With Wine (1986), The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American (1987), The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China, Greece, and Rome (1989), The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother (1990), The Frugal Gourmet's Culinary Handbook: An Updated Version of an American Classic on Food and Cooking (1991), and others, written with his assistant Craig Wollam.
Smith was regarded as a "genius" by some, and a "tyrant" by others.
[Blake, J (10 July, 2004). Jeff Smith, 1939 - 2004: "Frugal Gourmet" was popular on PBS. Seattle. Retrieved 15 October, 2013.] Kathy Casey, a Seattle Times'' food columnist and longtime friend of Smith's, described him as a knowledgeable and generous man who "...knew more about food and culture than anybody I know in the food world." She said he donated both money and time to charitable causes and helping individuals get started in the food industry, even after his retirement.
Smith also had his share of detractors. Irena Chalmers, a faculty member at the Culinary Institute of America and president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, once described him as "the Frugal Gourmet, who is neither".
[Critics Turn Up the Heat Over Frugal Gourmet's Style, Endorsements : Cooking: TV host Jeff Smith lambasted by food aficionados who say recipes aren't his--and aren't affordable. The popular author bites back (23 August, 1992). Los Angeles Times archive. Retrieved 16 August, 2013. ] Chicago Tribune food and wine columnist William Rice wrote, "I've tried to cook his stuff, and let's say it was hit or miss. Some things worked and others didn't." Newsweek writer Laura Shapiro criticized him as "a prime example of prominent cooks who may compromise their integrity by being paid to recommend food products and kitchen ware." She cited The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook as "...especially shocking ... the cookbook as infomercial". In a 1992 Harper's Magazine article, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison ridiculed him as "...a purveyor of patronizing poppycock ... conveyed with the kind of mock anger that is always a mask for real anger." Smith brushed aside such criticism: "Not many people read Harper's," he said. "That's a very small audience." He continued, "People criticize me for enjoying good food when I use the word frugal. Frugal doesn't mean cheap. It means you don't waste your money. They haven't read my books. They don't know the meaning of the word."
Sexual abuse allegations
In 1997 seven men filed a civil lawsuit against Smith, charging him with sexual abuse. Six alleged that they were molested as teenagers in the 1970s while working at Smith's deli and catering service in Tacoma; the seventh claimed that he was assaulted in 1992, at age 14, after Smith picked him up as a hitchhiker.
[ Superior Court of the State of Washington complaint archived by TheSmokingGun.com]
Smith denied the allegations, and no criminal charges were filed, but he and his insurers settled the cases for an undisclosed amount in 1998.
[ "Cooking star pays plaintiffs in sexual abuse suits" by Steve Behrens, Current.org, July 27, 1998]
The litigation ended his television career, though he continued his writing and charitable work.
Jeff Smith died in his sleep on July 7, 2004 of heart disease. He was survived by his wife Patricia, and sons Channing and Jason, as well as daughters-in-law Yuki and Lisa.
[ Jeff Smith, 1939 - 2004: "Frugal Gourmet" was popular on PBS obituary by Judith Blake, The Seattle Times]
"Recipes from the Frugal Gourmet" Produced by KTPS-TV Channel 62, Sponsored by "FRIENDS OF 62" PO Box 1357, Tacoma, WA 98401 Illustrated by Colleen Conroy (1977)
Frugal Gourmet (1984)
Cooks with Wine (1986)
Cooks American (1987)
Three Ancient Cuisines (1989)
Colonial Christmas (1990)
Our Immigrant Ancestors (1990)
Celebrates Christmas (1991)
Culinary Handbook (1991)
Whole Family Cookbook (1992)
Cooks Italian (1993)
Keeps the Feast (1995)
The original theme music for The Frugal Gourmet
had the opening and closing theme of MotorWeek
composed by Don Barto, and later changed to a piece of the famous water music.
: 1939 Births
, 2004 Deaths
, American Chefs
, American Food Writers
, American Methodists
, American Television Chefs
, Cardiovascular Disease Deaths In Washington
, Drew University Alumni
, People From Tacoma, Washington
, University Of Puget Sound Alumni