The Gold Coast space where chef Art Smith's Table Fifty-Two once operated should soon spring to life. Smith plans on opening his replacement concept, Blue Door Kitchen and Garden, next month. The celebrity chef has kept busy, as he's in Florida prepping to open a new restaurant in Disney World called Homecoming Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine Bar. He's also converting a mansion in his hometown of Jasper, Fla. into a cooking and gardening school.
Accounting for Blue Door's delays, Smith stressed patience with the restaurant initially planned to open in January. Both Smith and partner Fred Latsko are putting their final touches on the space. The heart of the new restaurant remains the same as Table Fifty-Two, Smith said. But the woodworking and other aspects of the remodeling will change the atmosphere: "There's going to be a real bar," Smith said.
Smith also said he's in a "save the world" mode, continuing to advocate for civil rights for the gay community and with the school, which is his way of giving back to his hometown. He's been traveling back and forth between Chicago and Florida, as Homecoming should open early this summer.
Smith also mentioned the thorough story appearing last week in the Tampa Bay Times questioning fraudulent farm-to-table menus. The piece has significance for Smith, as a Florida native and considering farm to table is an important part of Blue Door, named for an Indiana farm. Reading the story upset Smith: "People pay us a lot of money to do a great meal and take good care of them and I think it's our job," he said. "They don't need to worry about all that stuff, they need to know that's been taken care of, never need to question where it is or isn't."
Not to say Smith isn't used to pressure; he's Oprah Winfrey's former personal chef. But the story sparked conversation. He's already spoke with Blue Door chef Rey Villalobas about the article and knows the restaurant's sourcing could come under more scrutiny. "We're going to watch every slab-dab bit of it," Smith said.
Chicago has its limitations with acquiring farm-fresh produce, which makes many restaurants' claims worth dissecting. Smith contended few chefs would lie to their customers. He mentioned that few restaurants outed in the Tampa Bay Times' story were small independent restaurants. "This is what I think: I think this farm-to-table movement, it started with young chefs and farmers and people who really wanted to taste fresh. But what happens is big business gets in it, that's when things get murky."
Things shouldn't be murky at Blue Door Kitchen and Garden, according to Smith, when it hopefully opens in May.