Jeff Smith (chef)

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Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith Frugal Gourmet.png
Born January 22, 1939
Tacoma, Washington
Died July 7, 2004(2004-07-07) (aged 65)
Seattle, Washington
Spouse(s) Patricia "Patty" Smith (1966–death)
Culinary career
Cooking style Gourmet

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 and later moved to WTTW in Chicago, where it aired nationally on PBS from 1983 to 1997.[1]

Early life

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.[2]

Personal life

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".[3]


Smith launched his first cooking show in 1973 at KTPS in Tacoma. Following a move to WTTW in Chicago in 1983, he became The Frugal Gourmet and gained national recognition. The show ran on PBS for 14 years, a total of 261 episodes. Smith was known for his ability to film his shows straight through, without pauses or re-shoots to correct mistakes.[4]

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.[4] 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 helped individuals get started in the food industry, even after his retirement.[4]

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".[5] 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."[4] 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".[5] 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."[2] 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."[5]

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.[6][7] Smith denied the allegations, and no criminal charges were filed, but he and his insurers settled the cases for an undisclosed amount in 1998.[3][8] The litigation ended his television career, though he continued his writing and charitable work.[4]


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.[9]


  • The Frugal Gourmet (1984) ISBN 0688031188
  • The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine (1986) ISBN 0688058523
  • The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American (1987) ISBN 0688063470
  • The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China, Greece, and Rome (1989) ISBN 0688075894
  • The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother (1990) ISBN 0688075908
  • The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas (1991) ISBN 0688091288
  • The Frugal Gourmet's Culinary Handbook: An Updated Version of an American Classic on Food and Cooking (1991) ISBN 0688090710
  • The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections for Contemporary Living (1992) ISBN 0688069347
  • The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian: Recipes from the New and Old Worlds, Simplified for the American Kitchen (1993) ISBN 0688075916
  • The Frugal Gourmet Keeps the Feast: Past Present and Future (1995) ISBN 0688115683


  1. ^ "Frugal Gourmet - Episode Guide - MSN TV". Retrieved 2011-09-06. 
  2. ^ a b "P.C. on the grill: The Frugal Gourmet, lambasted and skewered, By Barbara Grizzuti Harrison (Harper's Magazine)". Retrieved 2011-09-06. (subscription required)
  3. ^ a b Kristin Dizon (July 9, 2004). "Jeff Smith, 1939-2004: The 'Frugal Gourmet' was TV's original celebrity chef". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Blake, J (10 July 2004). Jeff Smith, 1939 - 2004: "Frugal Gourmet" was popular on PBS. [Seattle Times archive]. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  5. ^ a b c 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.
  6. ^ Superior Court of the State of Washington complaint archived by
  7. ^ "The Seattle Times: Living: Jeff Smith, 1939 - 2004: "Frugal Gourmet" was popular on PBS". 2004-07-10. Retrieved 2011-09-06. 
  8. ^ "Cooking star pays plaintiffs in sexual abuse suits" by Steve Behrens,, July 27, 1998
  9. ^ Jeff Smith, 1939 - 2004: "Frugal Gourmet" was popular on PBS obituary by Judith Blake, The Seattle Times

Further reading

External links