There IS Such a Thing as Free Lunch

160 people treated to lunch by celebrity chef

He's cooked for the president and for Oprah, but on Monday afternoon, Chef Art Smith prepared lunch for around 270 people at 401 N. Michigan Ave.

It was all part of's latest Locals Only underground event. Over the past few weeks, hundreds of people have logged onto the Web site to enter the contest, and received invitations after completing a quiz about the city.

Smith and his team prepared some of the Southern comfort food he's known for -- his famous Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Sweet Potato Salad with Pineapple and Red Peppers, Goat Cheese Drop Biscuits and Hummingbird Cake.

Smith didn't choose the menu items lightly. Each one has a story, such as the chicken and the biscuits which are two of the most popular items at his restaurant, Table Fifty-Two. The potato salad was the first item he ever prepared for "O" magazine, but it's the cake that he says creates the most buzz.

"When I'm in my grave, that hummingbird cake is probably the thing that I'll be remembered for the most," Smith said. "And don't worry -- no hummingbirds were harmed in the making of these cakes!"

The same can't be said for the chickens, which received a hearty thumbs up from the guests who sampled it.

"I'm a health nut so I never eat fried chicken, but this is amazing," said Mimi Jung who stopped through on her lunch break.

"You can taste everything he put in it. It's out of this world," Chrissy Wise said after sampling the chicken.

Other guests were just happy to get close to a celebrity chef, share a couple of words, and watch him in action.

"Unlike a lot of so-called celebrity chefs, I actually do my own cooking at these events," Smith said while keeping a close eye on the burners.

This summer, Art Smith will be one of the featured contestants on a Bravo Top Chef spinoff show called Top Chef Masters. Smith will square off against 23 other world-renowned chefs including Chicago's Rick Bayless and Graham Elliot.

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