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Who Was Lucille Bishop Smith?

The subject of this week's cafe review, Lucille's, frustrated me so much over the course of three visits that I struggled this week to find much nice to say about it in my weekly review advance (the post you're reading right now which -- hopefully -- directs readers to each week's restaurant review).

Determined to find something positive to focus on -- after all, I wanted desperately to like Lucille's, especially after a terrific first visit back in September -- I decided to discover what I could about Lucille Bishop Smith, the woman for whom Lucille's is named.

Smith was chef/owner Chris Williams's great-grandmother and a Texas culinary pioneer. And while she may not be as well-known as women who tore up Texas kitchens -- such as Helen Corbitt or Zephyr Wright -- Smith was a force of nature herself.

"Women have carved out their own niche by inventing or developing products that arose out of their experiences as women," writes Mary Beth Rogers in the introduction to Legendary Ladies of Texas, in which Smith is cited as one such lady.

"Lucille Bishop Smith invented the first hot biscuit mix," writes Rogers, "and led the way for a new food industry."

That mix was Lucille's All Purpose Hot Roll Mix, which Smith parlayed into a lifelong career in food. Smith established one of the first college-level commercial foods and technology departments in the nation, just up the road at Prairie View A&M University. And when she wasn't busy teaching future generations how to cook -- for their families or for a career -- she was publishing recipe collections such as Lucille's Treasure Chest of Fine Foods.

But that's not all. In a short but exhausting rundown of Smith's other pursuits, food historian and former food editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer Toni Tipton Martin writes on her terrific blog, The Jemima Code:

"She raised funds for community service projects, fought to raise standards in slums, developed culinary vocational programs in Ft. Worth and at Prairie View, was responsible for the first extension workers being employed in Tarrant County, brought the first packaged Hot Roll Mix to market, conducted Itinerant Teacher Training Classes, developed Prairie View's Commercial Cooking and Baking Department, compiled five manuals for the State Dept. of Industrial Education, and was foods editor of Sepia Magazine.

Before Smith died in 1985 at 93 years old, she even established a family corporation, Lucille B. Smith's Fine Foods. Of the hot roll mix and Smith's company, Ruthe Winegarten and Sharon Kahn noted in their book, Brave Black Women: "One of her best customers was the heavyweight champion Joe Lewis."

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And lest you think that you are ever too old to accomplish anything you set your mind to, Smith proved that age really is only a number. She founded the company when she was 82.

Read more about Lucille's (but not Lucille Bishop Smith) in this week's cafe review.

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