A chef for more than 25 years, Bill Smith has cooked memorable suppers for most everyone who lives, farms or visits the good life we have in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He is as well known for a New York Times Notable and Food & Wine Best of the Best cookbook Seasoned in the South, as he is for remembering his customers' favorite dishes. The James Beard Awards (the Grammies or Oscars of the culinary kingdom) named Bill Smith a finalist for Best Chef Southeast in the spring of 2009. He is recognized for faithfully continuing the traditions established by Bill Neal at Crook's Corner and for developing, over the past decade, his own extremely creative and delicious, original dishes that have become classics —if not iconic Southern dishes—that could only come out of this particular place, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Smith's stories and recipes are an open book, available in Seasoned in the South and on his blog, A Year in the Kitchen. A writer as well as an intuitive chef, his essays (commenting on such pleasures as "Cuisine de Gran Mere and Covered-dish Suppers," "Why Collards May Have Saved the South and are a New Year's Tradition," "Foraging for Flowers to make Honeysuckle Sorbet") have been featured in newspapers, radio, and television. In his book and blog and on the Crook's menu, there is genius in his sense of economy, flavors and storytelling, for even the simplest of dishes, like "Fresh Tomato Pasta" and "Fish in Paper." He also offers more complicated, creative ideas, such as "How to use a Whole Duck." And his dessert explorations are often inspired by friends' and customers' old family recipes. For the past few years he's improvised old fashioned layer cakes.
Bill Smith's latest writing topic is Immigrants in the Kitchen — inspired by and interwoven with his travel journals — from trips to Celaya, Mexico, to visit former staff who have returned there. He recently was interviewed on this topic for a much-discussed article in the Journal of Southern Cultures: "Taking the Heat and Dishing it Out in a Nuevo-New-South Kitchen." A little clarified history here: Smith never actually cooked with Bill Neal; he joined Crook's co-founder Gene Hamer in 1993. Smith came to Crook's Corner — from the Bill and Moreton Neal-established La Residence restaurant — by way of the Cat's Cradle, which he co-founded in the 1970s, and where he finds perhaps the most extensive-ever, rock-band, T-shirt collection. Smith's musical, literary and culinary interests may explain why he's been called "Chapel Hill's most quintessential resident."