Frugal Gourmet Jeff Smith dies

Jeff Smith, a popular advocate for simple and multicultural cooking on public TV, died in his sleep July 7 [2004] in Seattle. He was 65 and suffered from heart disease.

The Frugal Gourmet, hosted by the white-bearded Methodist chaplain in a striped apron, aired on PBS from 1983 to 1997, making Smith a top chef on the network after Julia Child had established cooking as a staple for public TV.

Smith virtually disappeared from public view in the late 1990s after a number of men accused him of sexually abusing them when they were teenagers. He denied the charges, but four days before he was to face trial in 1998 he agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to settle the suit by seven plaintiffs. His insurance companies paid the sums, the AP reported. He was never charged with a crime.

Jim Paddleford, his business manager, told the AP that Smith’s career was ruined “by largely unsubstantiated innuendo.” But as many as 20 men said otherwise and Deborah Holton, a Portland Oregonian reporter, said interviews persuaded her that Smith’s behavior with young employees at his catering shop in the 1970s was “an open secret” in Tacoma, Wash.

Smith, chaplain at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, began lecturing on “Food as Sacrament and Celebration” in the 1960s and began hosting a show, Cooking Fish Creatively, for Tacoma’s KTPS (now KBTC) in 1974. In 1983, Smith began production of The Frugal Gourmet at WTTW in Chicago, and in 1990 he took the show to A La Carte Productions, which also made Child’s later series.

Smith used the dishes he made as a vehicle for theological treatises and historical trivia. “Eat history,” was the mantra he shared with his audience, and he preached the importance of families cooking and eating together at a time when the idea already seemed like an archaic notion.

He wrote 12 books, including two that once held the top two spots on the New York Times best-seller list, according to news reports.

In recent years, Smith continued to cook for charity fundraising dinners and was seen shopping in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, sometimes riding a motorized cart because of his ill health, the Seattle Times reported.

He is survived by his wife, Patricia, and sons Channing and Jason