Let a Celeb Reinvent You: B. Smith On Cooking

The food guru’s recipe for success? Find out.

by Rory Evans
Frangipane, right, and food pro B. Smith at the GE Monogram Design Center, in New York City, where Debbie prepares her pistachio-encrusted sea bass.
Photograph: Photo by: Danielle Levitt

The Celeb Model-turned-restaurateur and lifestyle entrepreneur, author of B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style and star of the DVD series Cooking With B. Smith and Friends
The Reinventor
Debbie Frangipane, Former executive assistant and personal trainer; co-owner, with her husband, of Savory Adventures, a travel-and fine-dining business; aspiring Certified Master Chef

Italy’s boot gave her a kick in the pants
Four years ago, while living in Italy with her husband, Debbie picked up some new techniques. “New to me—Italians have been cooking like this for centuries,” she says. Back in the United States, “Someone said I should cook professionally, and I laughed it off. Then I thought, why not?” Never one to dodge a challenge—she became a concert pianist essentially to spite an aunt who told her, at age seven, that she would never play anything more than “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”—Debbie set her sights on becoming a Certified Master Chef, which can require more than 10 years of classes, testing and experience. While she’s getting there, she wants B.’s advice on other ways to hone her skills and reputation.

To be (or not be) B.
Debbie has done cooking segments on TV in Tampa, and now she’s torn between pursuing that or starting a restaurant while she’s earning her culinary arts degree. On the question of having her own place, B. says, “I followed my heart.” To learn about the business while she was modeling, “I worked nights for over a year at a restaurant. All my model friends were like, ‘Is your booker not getting you enough work?’ ” Although she enjoys refining recipes, being in the kitchen wasn’t her goal: When she opened B. Smith’s in New York in 1986, “I used it as my platform, a place for fund-raisers, for dances, to promote feminist press.” (There are now B. Smith’s in Washington, D.C., and Sag Harbor, New York.) Restaurants are a business, she warns Debbie: The focus is on making dough (figuratively, not literally). “If cooking is what you love,” B. says, “that’s not what you do in a restaurant.” Says Debbie later, “Talking with B. made me realize that opening a restaurant is not something I want to do.”

TV dinners
Focusing on the TV idea, B. gives Debbie tips on streamlining her presentation to fit a short segment. When making meals, B. suggests, imagine you’re chatting with a talk show host and make eye contact. “I used to chop vegetables at home and pretend to be talking to someone, like, ‘Yes, Regis. Exactly, Regis,’ ” says B., who can somehow create three dishes in a five-minute Today show segment.

Book it, Debbie
B. also recommends that Debbie do a cookbook to help brand herself for the television audience while she’s still in school. And keep in mind what people want to eat right now, B. says: “If you read an article saying kale is the hottest thing out there, you have to think, how can I come up with a new recipe for kale?” Debbie, who had already begun compiling a book, says that B.’s encouragement will help her finish what she’s started. “Cooking is what my body wants to do,” she says. “It freaks me out when I don’t cook for a week.”   

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