Heidi Smith: The joys of cooking and writing

The local chef's first cookbook was published in December.

Teresa Dovalpage
Posted 2/5/15

Heidi Smith leads an active life. She enjoys being outdoors and walks or hikes almost every day.

“That’s my meditation,” she said.

She likes to cook and eat mostly everything — except for fish, unless she catches it herself — but has …

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Heidi Smith: The joys of cooking and writing

The local chef's first cookbook was published in December.

Posted

Heidi Smith leads an active life. She enjoys being outdoors and walks or hikes almost every day.

“That’s my meditation,” she said.

She likes to cook and eat mostly everything — except for fish, unless she catches it herself — but has a preference for homemade bread and vegetables.

“I love cooking cauliflower,” she said. “You can steam it and serve it with browned bread crumbs, or put Hollandaise or tomato sauce over it. Any tasty sauce will create a nice balance for this mild veggie.”

When making bread Smith keeps it simple, though she sometimes adds rosemary leaves for extra flavor.

“A word about kneading,” she said. “Don’t overdo it. It will not make bread better.”

Good, sharp knives are a must for her. Smith buys big pieces of meat and whole chickens, and cuts them up herself.

“I have cutting, boning, carving and utility knives,” she said. “I have them in different sizes, too, just like frying pans. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ in cooking.”

Though she owns and occasionally uses “cooking gadgets” Smith favors old-fashioned methods.

“For me, as a chef, creating food with my hands is more satisfying than pressing a button,” she said. “And fancy gadgets aren’t always the best choice. For example, peeling potatoes with a hand-grater produces much better results than using a Cuisinart peeler. I make a point about that in my book.”

The book

Smith’s first cookbook, “Why Add Water When Wine Will Do? — Memories of Recipes and Food’s Pleasures,” was published in December 2014. The author, who never had the intention of writing it, said “it just happened, almost by chance.”

“People were always asking me about recipes, but I thought that there were too many cookbooks out there already,” she said.

She had finished writing her first memoir, “After the Bombs—My Berlin,” and began working on a second part. She planned to incorporate recipes, but felt that they interrupted the flow of the book.

“So I wrote them separately, just to get them out of the way, and ended up with a cookbook,” she said.

“Why Add Water When Wine Will Do?” is available locally at Brodsky Bookshop, the Millicent Rogers Museum shop, and Taos Food Co-op.

Smith has lived in the United States for over 50 years and says she doesn’t think in German very much anymore, so writing in her second language wasn’t difficult for her.

“But I asked my husband, Trent, to review everything that I wrote,” she said. “He tries all my dishes as well.”

With her cookbook, Smith wanted to make sure that people sense the joy and rewards of cooking.

“My goal was for the recipes, from escargot to meat loaf, to be simple,” she said. “Many can be made ahead of time. I’ve done this most of my life, especially when cooking for a crowd, and can assure you that the taste of almost all foods improves for the better when gently reheated.”

A long journey

Smith was born and raised in Berlin, Germany. She traveled to Basel, Switzerland, and later to New York, where she worked as a private chef and au-pair.

She and her husband Trent Smith raised three children and a flock of sheep in Vermont while she also worked as chef, retail and wholesale business owner and Realtor.

In New York she was the personal chef for William Jovanovich, president of the book publishing company Harcourt, Brace and World.

“He hosted a luncheon everyday for new writers, and famous ones like Anne Lindberg and William Saroyan,” said Smith, who added that she didn’t think about writing herself then.

She also worked for a ski club in Vermont where they served an average of 50 to 60 lunches a day, and over 100 at special dinner events.

“The club members were well-known people in the financial, entertainment and restaurant world in Boston and New York, she said. “The food had to be excellent and plentiful.”

Smith also had a catering business that got established after she was awarded second place at the National Beef Cook-Off.

“TV interviews and newspaper articles about it made all the difference,” she said. “People contacted me from all over Vermont, where we were living at the time.”

Heidi and Trent Smith moved to Taos in 2006 and she now works part-time at the Millicent Rogers Museum.

Living in the Southwest has influenced Smith’s culinary style. She now uses chile, “but not too much.”

“I add it to stews, sauces and guacamole,” she said. “One of my favorite dishes is a buffalo burger with lots of pepper on the outside. I put green chile on top once it is done. Delicious!”

The best advice Smith has for an aspiring chef is to learn the basics first, and learn them well.

“Once you have mastered the fundamentals, you are free to play with them,” she said.

When I asked her if she had a motto, she said it was, “Why not?”

“Because that is really it, in life and especially in the kitchen,” she said. “When pondering ‘Should I try this or that?’ — ‘Why not?’ rises to the top and I go ahead and experiment.”


A recipe from Heidi Smith

Black Forest Potato Chowder

I entered this recipe in a contest sponsored by Better Homes and Gardens magazine in 1970. It garnered an honorable mention. The prize was their 18-volume Encyclopedia of Cooking, a valued addition o my cookbook library.

The chowder makes a hearty lunch or dinner with pumpernickel bread and a salad. 4 to 8 servings

Soup

  • 8 cups beef broth
  • 1 pound red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced as above
  • 3 tomatoes, diced
  • 3 leeks, white and green parts sliced thin crosswise
  • 1/2 celery root, diced — celery can be substituted
  • 3 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream

Croutons

  • 4 thick slices pumpernickel or rye bread
  • 1 slice thick bacon

Add all soup ingredients, except sour cream, to boiling broth. Bring to boil again while stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until veggies are done.

Meanwhile prepare croutons. Dice bacon and fry. Cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes, add to the frying pan. Toss until bread is crisp. Set aside. When vegetables are tender, but not falling apart, remove bay leaf and parsley.

In a small dish add a little broth to the sour cream, blend until smooth and add to soup. Simmer until heated through again, adjust taste if needed.

Ladle into bowls and top each serving with croutons and bacon.

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