March came roaring in for Houston chef Claire Smith, owner of the much-praised Daily Review Cafe in north Montrose [3412 West Lamar, (713) 520-9217]. By the end of the month's first weekend, Smith seemed to be everywhere at once.
Her big-time media blitz began when the March issue of Cooking Light magazine hit the shelves with her photo and recipe feature, continued with her starring role on Turner Broadcasting System's Dinner & a Movie national cablecast on Friday, and wrapped with a live local appearance on KUHT-TV Saturday morning. Smith was one of ten chefs from across the country invited to compete for the spot on Dinner & a Movie in a "Super Chef Cook-Off" held in New York last November, jointly sponsored by TBS, Gallo Vineyards and Cooking Light magazine. The ten chefs leaped at the chance, Smith says, "and all the others were much bigger names than me."
Each chef was challenged to match a menu to the movie Ghost (which, coincidentally, stars our hometown heartthrob Patrick Swayze). The rules called for the entree to be delicious, of course, but it also had to be low in fat and make an "inspirational reference" to the 1990 film. This led to tongue-in-cheeky dish names such as "Pair-O-Normal Game Hens" from Chicago chef Susan Goss and "Patrick Sage-y Crusted Lamb Loin" from Marty Blitz of Tampa. But our Claire came home the winner with her "Steamy Clay Pot Chicken and To-Kill-For Embezzler's Purses." Hers was the only recipe to capitalize on the potter's wheel featured in Ghost; "I guess the clay pot idea is pretty obvious, so I snagged that really fast when they asked us to register our concept," explains Smith. "I even served the dish on Moroccan tagines, and they really seemed to like that." The Super Chef prize of $5,000 was donated in her name to Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to ending hunger.
If you missed the broadcast, Smith's recipes are reprinted in the March issue of Cooking Light and are posted on Dinner & a Movie's Web site at www.wtbs.com/d_and_m. (The Web site also sports some of the lyrics and a sound clip of the show's theme song, an old Louis Jordan ditty called "Beans and Cornbread.")
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Smith says filming the TBS special in California was fun -- "It was really neat to meet all the other chefs at the photo shoot, and Danny Bonaduce was one of the judges" -- but her 20-minute live appearance on Houston's PBS station was frightening. "I'd never been on live television before, so it was scary," she admits. "I have a bit of a problem with stage fright, even just doing cooking classes at Rice Epicurean."
Tim Keating, the chef at DeVille in the Four Seasons Hotel, organized the live spot to kick off the March membership drive for PBS affiliate KUHT and to promote the Chef's Collaborative 2000. Keating, Smith and Monica Pope of Boulevard Bistrot cooked on camera, focusing on the use of fresh local produce. "Tim's really great. He stood right beside me, introduced me and did most of the talking, which made me feel a whole lot better," says Smith. She deftly prepared a fresh chervil soup "with a touch of cream and some other green things for color."
"It was the first time I've ever cooked on television, so next time I'll have a much better idea what to do," says Smith. Could this be a new career path for our Claire? Stay tuned.
-- Margaret L. Briggs