Chef Art Smith has cooked for four presidents throughout his career, and now he’s on the road serving up delicious meals for former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Smith is traveling with Mrs. Obama for her Becoming book tour after first meeting years ago through an introduction facilitated by Oprah Winfrey. (Smith worked as the media mogul’s personal chef for many years.)
“She’s this mega-force at the moment,” Smith says of Mrs. Obama in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “But behind that is this beautiful, lovely lady, who loves delicious food.”
On the road, Smith along with chefs Rey Villalobos and Adrian De Berardinis, “cook very simply,” he says. “There’s usually always soups. We usually do salads, which are delicious and nutritious, a nice chicken or beef and dessert like hummingbird cake or cobbler.”
Those meals serve an important purpose for both Mrs. Obama and her team while they prep for her to step on stage.
“It’s a time to find peace and to enjoy the meal. [There might be] some small talk, but nothing too exhausting,” Smith says. “It’s very family-like. There’s the hair dresser, the makeup artist, and [Mrs. Obama’s] chief of staff.”
He continues: “We’re cloistered in a little area with the secret service away from everybody. We’re really the only ones who get close to her. So, we’re in our own little world there and it’s like we’re one big family.”
First released in November 2018, Mrs. Obama’s memoir broke records and continues to be a must-read. Her book tour, Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama, which features earnest conversations with icons like Sarah Jessica Parker and Winfrey, has became so popular that the tour was extended into 2019.
Smith says he is just glad to be joining her on the journey—and Mrs. Obama is equally thrilled to have him.
“I couldn’t be more thankful for Art’s culinary skills,” she says. “His meals are just the right mix of healthy and comforting, which is perfect for such a busy time in my life. It’s such a blessing to have him along for this ride!”
For more from Art Smith and Michelle Obama, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.
Adds Smith: “She is very thoughtful, caring, and never misses an opportunity to ask how you are. She’s a great person, who is a delight to cook for.”
One of Mrs. Obama’s favorite dishes from the road is Smith’s turkey chili. Get the recipe for the dish, which he describes as a “one-pot wonder,” below.
Art Smith’s Turkey Chili
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 lbs. ground turkey
1 medium-size yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1½ Tbsp. chile powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
3⁄4 tsp. chipotle chile powder
1 medium-size red bell pepper, diced (about 1¼ cups)
1 (28-oz.) can tomato puree
3 (15-oz.) cans pinto beans, drained
1¾ cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven over high. Add half of the ground turkey, and cook, undisturbed, until browned on bottom, about 3 minutes. Stir turkey, and cook until no pink remains and turkey is crumbled, about 3 minutes. Transfer cooked turkey to a bowl, and repeat with 1 tablespoon oil and remaining ground turkey.
2. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, chile powder, cumin, oregano and chipotle powder, and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Return turkey to pot; stir in bell pepper, tomato puree and beans, and bring to a boil. Stir in stock and vinegar; reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, 45 minutes. Add thyme, and season with
salt and pepper. Serve with your favorite chili toppings.
Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour