If you're at Chef Art Smith's Chicago home, you're probably in the kitchen watching him cook. "Bringing people to the table is one of the most beautiful things we can do," he says. "The more time we spend at the table, the deeper our relationships. Everything tastes better, feels better, when shared."
If you're lucky enough to be at Art's home between mid-May and late October, however, you're probably watching him cook in the backyard, in an outdoor kitchen he built after grilling food outside at Oprah's California home. "I got back to Chicago and thought, I want to be just like Oprah."
Art, however, must deal with a climate that's different from Southern California's, and his 500-square-foot, poured-cement backyard is shared by everyone in the 14-unit Hyde Park condominium. But Art, who sees dinner company and new friends where others see potential roadblocks, assessed the situation with typical exuberance: "We just took over!"
Potted rosemary, thyme, basil and tomato plants grow near Art's Viking wok/cooker.
At first, he wanted only a simple cooking area. "Then I thought, Wouldn't it be great to have a wood-fired oven?" He eventually added a gas grill and a wok/cooker by Viking, a Wood Stone tandoor, a John Boos hardwood workstation, a sink, a porch with a fountain, a pond with 15 koi, a deck, three birch trees, seating for 16, and a vegetable garden.
Art found his outdoor sink, which is made from a block of travertine, at a closeout sale.
"There's just something special about cooking and eating outside," he says. "I don't care if it's just a hot dog: If you make it outside, it tastes better."
Last summer, Art and his longtime partner, Jésus Ramon Salgueiro, added flower boxes for their neighbors in the condo building. "People who never had a place to grow anything really got into the spirit," Art says. "The amazing thing is, this space, which was built for our own personal party overflow, is now a community garden.
Brickwork and stone provide a built-in frame for the Viking grill and a base for limestone countertops.
"Sometimes, I think maybe we should get a bigger house," Art says, "just so we could have a bigger yard—and a bigger outdoor kitchen."
People are drawn to this lovely garden, are delighted to find themselves among all the ingredients, and often end up cooking something." (No, Art doesn't mind if neighbors use his outdoor kitchen, "as long as they clean up after themselves.")
"When I go outside, it's like, 'Business is open,'" Art says. "Whether I'm preparing food for a few friends or for a large party, people come and sit at the table while I cook."
When Chef Art Smith is cooking in his outdoor kitchen, all types of food can be found on his grill…even pizza!
"I have great memories of spending time with people over pizza," Art says.
Get his recipe for Margherita pizza
—including his easy pizza dough and basic tomato sauce.