Tracy Miller/New York Daily News
Chef Art Smith and Dennis Kum, chef and owner of Big D’s Grub food truck, display Smith’s diabetes-friendly dish, Ginger Chicken Tacos, on the menu at Big D’s through December.
If there’s one thing Art Smith has learned about healthy eating, it’s that nobody wants a chef to go hungry.
“Being a chef, you’re constantly around food, constantly being given food,” Smith told the Daily News. “I think it says ‘feed me’ on here,” he added, gesturing to his forehead.
The acclaimed restauranteur and bestselling cookbook author, who has whipped up his signature Southern fare for Oprah Winfrey, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and the Obamas, was forced to reckon with his eating habits three years ago when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The disease runs in Smith’s family, and both his father and grandfather died from sudden heart attack related to the condition.
Since that wake-up call, Smith, 53, has lost 100 pounds, reformed his diet and exercise habits and been a vocal advocate of whole, unprocessed, plant-based fare. He’s an executive chef of the LYFE Kitchen restaurant chain, where every dish is under 600 calories, and a supporter of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.
“It was important that I be a beacon for my family as well as for other people, to show them they could live well,” Smith said.
Chef Art Smith, who has type 2 diabetes, is helping others with the condition find delicious, healthy meals through a campaign that puts diabetes-friendly dishes on the menu at several New York restaurants.
As for his own diet, it took some experimentation to find a balance that he could stick with for life.
“I went through a phase where I was running marathons, which was great, but I got teeny tiny. I couldn’t be a real chef,” he said. “I wasn’t trying my food, I wasn’t engaged in my food, and it didn’t work.”
Smith avoids sugar and processed foods in favor of whole grains, proteins like fish and egg whites, steel cut oatmeal, Greek yogurt, fruit and plenty of water. These days he isn’t focused on his weight, but rather on keeping his diabetes in check.
“To me, rather than jump on the scales, I’m gonna test my sugar,” he said. “Mind you, it feels good to get into a pair of those jeans, but it’s misleading.”
Restaurant menus are usually a minefield for people with diabetes, due to supersized portions and amped-up fat and sugar, and Smith’s latest project is aimed at making healthy restaurant choices a little easier.
Tracy Miller/New York Daily News
The Ginger Chicken Tacos from Big D’s Grub food truck are one of Smith’s healthy recipes currently being featured at New York City restaurants.
For the Taking Diabetes to Heart campaign, an online resource sponsored by Merck, Smith shares his healthy recipes and eating tips, and he also created diabetes-friendly dishes for restaurants in select cities across the country. All are low in processed carbs and rich in lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats.
New Yorkers can look for the following dishes by Smith, which will appear on the restaurants’ menus through December:
– Carmine’s Restaurant (200 W. 44th St.): Misti Salad with Fall Fruits and Walnuts
– Fred’s Restaurant (476 Amsterdam Ave.): Strahan Superbowl Salad
– Pappardella (316 Columbus Ave.): Seared Filet of Salmon
– Big D’s Grub Truck (food truck; various locations): Ginger Chicken Tacos (see recipe below)
“I’ve said, if you can get restaurants to have just one healthy dish and label it on the menu, it will make a difference,” Smith said. “I don’t want people to feel excluded, but I want them to know what they can eat.”
Recipe: Ginger Chicken Tacos
10 pounds chicken thigh
2 tablespoons sazón
5 inch double corn tortillas
For the ginger sauce (recommended serving for sauce is approximately 2 tablespoons):
1/2 cup minced onion
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons minced celery
2 tablespoons ketchup
4 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a blender, combine the minced onion, oil, vinegar, ginger, celery, ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Blend on high speed for about 30seconds or until all of the ingredients are well-pureed.
Trim and grill chicken with 2 tablespoons of Sazon.
Toast corn tortilla with meat, ginger sauce, diced cucumbers and topped off with fresh cilantro.
Nutrition Information (1 serving)
Saturated fat 1g