Aug 31, 2022 - Food and Drink

Chef Art Smith returns with a mission at Reunion

Chef with chicken
Art Smith. Photo courtesy of Reunion

Chef Art Smith once loomed large in Chicago as Oprah's personal chef, a regular on her show, the proprietor of Table 52 (now Blue Door) in the Gold Coast and the founder of nonprofit Common Threads.

  • Then in 2015, he returned to his home state of Florida to open Homecomin,' his dream restaurant in Disney World.

Why it matters: Smith is now back to launch his latest project — Reunion, the inviting new anchor restaurant at Navy Pier.

  • We recently chatted with the chef in the Reunion dining room, lined with paintings by his husband, Jesus Salgueiro.

What's happening: Reunion mixes Chicago with his Florida childhood of "sandy roads, fish camps, chicken and dumplings, fried chicken and greens," Smith says.

Between the lines: Smith wants to blend Southern comfort with celebrations of diversity.

  • "We have several transgender kids [working] here, and to me it was a sign that I need to do something for transgender people, particularly because of what's happening in Florida," he said.
  • "So once a month, we're going to have a Reunion Pride party right here for the whole community."

Flashback: Smith famously called former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi "Cruella De Vil" for her stance on marriage equality. But he's also worked for two Florida governors, Bob Graham and Jeb Bush.

The intrigue: He says he's recently been asked to cook for current Florida leaders, including Gov. Ron DeSantis. And he's considering it.

  • "You let me feed them, and I'll change them," he says. "I mean it."
  • "As my friend told me, 'Artie, you can be that little Chihuahua biting at their ankles, or you can be that big dog looking them in the eyes.'"
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