Jeff Smith (chef)

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Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet at Fante's Kitchen Shop (1990).jpg
Smith in 1990.
BornJanuary 22, 1939
DiedJuly 7, 2004(2004-07-07) (aged 65)
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Spouse(s)Patricia "Patty" Smith (1966–2004)
Culinary career
Cooking styleGourmet
Previous restaurant(s)
  • Chaplain's Pantry (1972-1983)
Television show(s)
  • Cooking Fish Creatively (1973–1977)
    The Frugal Gourmet (1983-1995)

Jeffrey L. 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-TV in Chicago, where it aired nationally on PBS from 1983 to 1997.[1]

Early life[edit]

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]


Smith began his television career in 1973 at a local PBS station, KTPS (now KBTC) in Tacoma, with a show called Cooking Fish Creatively. In 1983, after selling the Chaplain's Pantry, he moved to WTTW in Chicago, which took his program — now renamed The Frugal Gourmet — nationally to PBS stations. The show ran for 11 seasons, a total of 261 episodes. [3]

Smith with his long-time assistant and co-author Craig Wollam at Fante's Kitchen Shop (1992)

Over the course of his career, Smith published numerous cookbooks, such as Recipes from the Frugal Gourmet (1977), The Frugal Gourmet (1984), The Frugal Gourmet Cooks With Wine (1986), The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American (1987), The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines (1989), The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors (1990), The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas (1991), The Frugal Gourmet's Culinary Handbook (1991), The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook (1992), The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian (1993), and The Frugal Gourmet Keeps the Feast (1995).

Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode with Smith in 1986

Smith was regarded as a "genius" by some and as a "tyrant" by others.[3] 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.[3]

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".[4] 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."[3] 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".[4] 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."[4]

Sexual abuse allegations[edit]

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 the Chaplain's Pantry in Tacoma; the seventh claimed that he was assaulted in 1992, at age 14, after Smith picked him up as a hitchhiker.[5][3] Smith denied the allegations, and no criminal charges were filed, but he and his insurers settled the cases for an undisclosed amount in 1998.[6][7] The litigation ended his television career, though he continued his writing and charitable work.[3]


Smith died in his sleep of heart disease on July 7, 2004 at the age of 65. He had had a heart valve replaced in 1981.[8] He was survived by his wife Patricia "Patty" Smith, and sons Channing and Jason, as well as daughters-in-law Yuki and Lisa.[3]


  • Recipes from the Frugal Gourmet (1977)
  • 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 Celebrates Christmas (1991)
  • The Frugal Gourmet's Culinary Handbook: An Updated Version of an American Classic on Food and Cooking (1991)
  • The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections for Contemporary Living (1992)
  • The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian: Recipes from the New and Old Worlds, Simplified for the American Kitchen (1993)
  • The Frugal Gourmet Keeps the Feast: Past, Present, and Future (1995)


  1. ^ "Frugal Gourmet: Episode Guide". MSN TV. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Grizzuti Harrison, Barbara (June 1992). "P.C. on the Grill: The Frugal Gourmet, Lambasted and Skewered". Harper's Magazine. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Blake, Judith (July 10, 2004). "Jeff Smith, 1939–2004: Frugal Gourmet Was Popular on PBS". The Seattle Times. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
  4. ^ 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". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. August 23, 1992. Retrieved August 16, 2013.
  5. ^ "'Frugal Gourmet' Settles Sleazy Sex Charges". July 6, 1998.
  6. ^ Dizon, Kristin (July 9, 2004). "Jeff Smith, 1939–2004: The 'Frugal Gourmet' Was TV's Original Celebrity Chef". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  7. ^ Behrens, Steve (July 27, 1998). "Cooking Star Pays Plaintiffs in Sexual Abuse Suits". Current. Archived from the original on July 17, 2013. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
  8. ^ The Associated Press (July 10, 2004), Jeff Smith, 65, TV's 'Frugal Gourmet', The New York Times, retrieved August 10, 2021

Further reading[edit]

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