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Chefs Debbie Gold And Michael Smith

Celebrity Chef

The Rest of the Story

Love, Marriage, two Daughters, a Restaurant and the James Beard Award for Best Midwest Chefs in 1999 are the result of that short ride - so far...

Debbie Gold

When growing up, Debbie Gold was the only person in her family who was passionate about food and cooking. The Chicago native, now 38, surprised her parents when, while still in high school, she subscribed to Bon Appétit and began whipping up impressive meals for the family. Such early endeavors paid off. She went on to study restaurant management at the University of Illinois, and then attended L'Ecole Hoteliere de Tain L'Hermitage.

After graduation, Debbie apprenticed at such Michelin-starred French restaurants as Michel Chabran, Albert LeCompt, Jean Marc Reynaud and Le Gourmandin. When she returned to Chicago in 1987, she got a job at the world-renowned Charlie Trotter's, where she met her future husband, Michael Smith. The couple returned to France in 1989, where they worked as executive chefs at L'Albion in Nice for two years. After moving back to Chicago with Michael in 1991, Debbie worked as pastry chef at Everest and then as executive chef at Mirador until 1994.

Michael Smith

Michael Smith, 41, was initiated into the restaurant business at an early age. His mother, a restaurant manager, familiarized him with the daily grind of the kitchen-from peeling potatoes and shrimp to cleaning bathrooms and washing dishes-as the family moved from town to town after Michael's birth in Gettysburg, South Dakota. After earning a degree in Psychology at the University of Southern Colorado, Michael began work at Chateau Pyrenees, a French restaurant in Denver, where he studied under Jean-Pierre Lelievre and, later, Georges Mavro.

In 1985, he went to the South of France to work at Le Presqu'ile for two years. (He was unaware that his future wife and partner was nearby, earning her wings as a chef as well.) Michael returned to Chicago in 1987 to work at Charlie Trotter's. There he met Debbie Gold, with whom he returned to France in 1989 to be share the Executive Chef title at L'Albion. Upon his return to Chicago in 1991, he worked at Carlos' in Highland Park and then at Gordon until 1994.

Michael Smith and Debbie Gold

When Michael Smith and Debbie Gold first met in the kitchen at Charlie Trotter's, it wasn't exactly love at first sight. The naturally competitive atmosphere of a high-pressure restaurant made them a little wary of each other at first. But once the ice was broken, romance wasn't far behind.

Smith and Gold left Trotter's to work as Executive Chefs at L'Albion in the South of France; they returned to Chicago in 1991. When they heard that Kansas City's The American Restaurant was looking for a new chef, they decided to apply together, knowing they thrived as partners in the kitchen. Beginning there in 1994, the duo quickly breathed new life into both the menu and the image of the 25-year-old restaurant, which had suffered in the past from an intimidating and pretentious image. Their fresh, simple, unfussy American fare, supported by the foundation of their extensive French training, won the trust and loyalty of local diners. In 1999 they were given the James Beard Award for Best Chefs in the Midwest--a first for both them and for Kansas City.

Michael and Debbie have continued to bring national attention to Kansas City. Active members of the culinary community, they established a series of annual James Beard Foundation fundraising dinners, as well as developing local seminars and special events that featured famous chefs from all over the country. Their menu for the Crayola Cafe, a well-known children's restaurant, was named the #1 Kids' Menu in America by Restaurant Hospitality. Having lent their faces and names to a number of major ad campaigns, including those for Grey Poupon mustard and Vita-Prep Blenders, Michael and Debbie continue to become among the nation's most recognized and respected chefs.

In March of 2001 Michael Smith and Debbie Gold announced their intention to open their own restaurant, Forty Sardines. Scheduled to open in May, the restaurant will be a continuation of the couple's culinary journey, using fresh, straightforward flavors from around the world, while always building upon their traditional French training. The setting, like the food, will be welcoming, warm and comfortable. With a winning combination of star power and the trust of the community, Forty Sardines promises to be a major culinary destination, both locally and nationally.