Nerd Turned Chef Gives Back to Black Community

Chef David Austin Smith at a pop-up in 2017. Photo courtesy of David Smith.
Chef David Austin Smith at a pop-up in 2017. Photo courtesy of David Smith.

The grandson of two chefs who made their way to West Oakland during the glory days of the railroads. David Austin Smith grew up in the kitchen listening to their stories of life in St. Louis, MO, and St. Francisville, La.

Grandpa Smitty, who prided himself on his smoked chicken and ribs, tended with a signature sauce that is part of the family legacy, headed up Smitty’s Smokehouse. His side dishes were soul food standards: mac and cheese, fries, red beans and rice and dirty rice and potato salad “with no raisins in it,” he says taking a jab at newfangled ideas.

From Eugene Smothers, who was related to “Roots” author Alex Haley, Smith learned Louisiana Creole cuisine. A nerd who cut school because he was bullied, Smith was at home a lot in his pre-teen years at a time when Smothers had suffered a stroke. To keep Smothers engaged, and also because he was never one to wait because he was never one to wait for someone else to cook something he wanted to eat. David hung out in the kitchen despite his mother’s protests.

His Crocker Highlands neighbors also noticed that David exhibited a hustling spirit- washing cars, delivering the newspaper — and he was offered a job washing dishes at a downtown Oakland café.

He fell in love. “I just loved the environment. The hustle and bustle, the smell of the food, playing with the chefs. This was what I wanted to do.’’

He was just going-along- to-get-along, when a 2007 brush with the law put Smith on the road to a visible success. Invited to work in a group home as a chef. Smith proved to have a gift in reaching the young residents, leading to awards, recognition and having his record expunged.

“I decided I wasn’t going to take this lightly.” said the married father of three. “I’m going to work my hardest to become something.”

Smith helped Chef Romney Steele with her start-up ‘’the Cook and the Farmer” in 2014. which inspired him to get busy with his own pop-up. Kid CreoleSoulFood.

He cooks his grandfathers’ foods, tweaking recipes to make them healthier. “I took out the MSG.” he said.

Wanting to give back by working with Black youth.  Smith proposed an after-school club teaching culinary skills in the Hayward Unified School District. Eventually, he was able to employ students in his pop-ups.

HUSD stopped the program after three years, but that hasn’t slowed Smith’s roll. He’s teaching at the
Hercules library the next two months and catered a funeral and a baby shower this past weekend.

The garden/chef concept is being tried again at Stem Kitchen and Gardens at the Chase Center in San Francisco, but you can get a sense of his delightful offerings at the Black-Eyed Pea Festival where he will be serving up shrimp and grits, a vegan gumbo (including black-eyed peas) and peach cobbler and banana pudding for dessert.

The Black-Eyed Pea Festival is a celebration of African America food, music, and art.  The Post and Omnira Institute are sponsors of the festival on Sat. Sept. 14, 2019, from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on the front lawn of Oakland Technical High School at 4351 Broadway.  For more information, please call or text (510) 332-5851.


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