Nov. 2, 2022

Bringing Global Flavors to Tulsa, Oklahoma and Beyond with Chef Shannon Smith

Bringing Global Flavors to Tulsa, Oklahoma and Beyond with Chef Shannon Smith

This week's guest is Shannon Smith. She’s a cook, teacher, and traveler based in Tulsa, OK. She's traveled to more than 50 countries, meeting and cooking with people, from home cooks to restaurant chefs, while documenting it on her blog. She also uses her travels to teach women how to cook, and helps to finance their businesses using micro-loan programs. 

Her charity work includes Vizavance, a program that provides eye care to the homeless, as well as Hope Haven Rwanda, a school for impoverished children in Rwanda. She's raised over $500K for her charity work by donating epic dinner parties at her home. 

On the show, we talk about how she became a world traveler and cooking instructor. She explains how the micro-finance loan program works, and some of the charities she’s been working with. She’s currently working on a forthcoming cookbook, THE HIDDEN TABLE, a collection of stories and recipes from her adventures around the world, which is set to be released next year. 

SHANNON SMITH
Shannon's Instagram
Shannon's Website

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Sponsor- The United States Personal Chef Association
Over the past 30 years, the world of the personal chef has grown in importance to fulfill dining needs. While the pandemic certainly upended the restaurant experience, it allowed personal chefs to close that dining gap.  Central to all of that is the United States Personal Chef Association.
 
USPCA provides a strategic backbone for those chefs that includes liability insurance, training, communications, certification, and more. It’s a reassurance to consumers that the chef coming into their home is prepared to offer them an experience with their meal.

Call Angela today at 800-995-2138 ext 705 or email her at aprather@uspca.com for membership and partner info.

Sponsor- Chemists in the Kitchen
Chemists in the Kitchen by LabX, is a YouTube video series spotlighting the power of chemistry, and how science and food can bring people together.

In each episode, real scientists walk you through things like making your own pickles, the chemistry behind ceviche, the formula for perfect homemade pretzels, and more.

It's a love letter to science, cooking, and individuality, with some great tips on how you can apply real scientific principles to your everyday cooking. 

Season 2 is airing now, and you can catch up with every episode for free on YouTube by searching “Chemists in the Kitchen” or going to Youtube.com/LabXNAS

Sponsor-meez
Still keeping your recipes in docs? Doing your costing in spreadsheets? You should try meez—the recipe tool designed for chefs by chefs. Founded by professional chef Josh Sharkey, meez transforms your recipe content into a powerful digital format that lets you organize, scale, train, and cost like never before. See why meez is loved by over 12,000 culinary professionals. Sign up for a free account today at getmeez.com/cwr. 

Transcript

Welcome to Chefs Without Restaurants. I'm your host, Chris Speier. On this program, I have conversations with culinary entrepreneurs and people in the food and beverage industry, not working in a traditional restaurant setting. This week. My guest is Shannon Smith. She's a cook, teacher James Beard award judge and traveler based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Raised in nearby Oklahoma City, Chef Smith's traveled to more than 50 countries meeting and cooking with people ranging from home cooks to restaurant chefs while documenting it all on her blog Chef shannon.com. She also uses her travels to teach women how to cook and helps them finance their businesses using micro loan programs. Her charity work includes viziv Hance, a program that provides eye care to the homeless, as well as hope Haven Rwanda, a school for impoverished children and Marinda Rwanda. To date, she's raised over $500,000 for her charity work by donating epic dinner parties that she has at her home. On the show, we talked about how she became a world traveler and cooking instructor. She explains how the microfinance loan program works and some of the charities she has been working with. She's currently working on a forthcoming book, The Hidden table, a collection of stories and recipes from her adventures around the world, which is set to be released next year. And this week, I'd also like to give a big warm Chefs Without Restaurants. Welcome to Two of our new sponsors. First up, we have Meez. Some of you might have heard me his founder Josh Sharkey on the podcast a couple of months ago. And our other new sponsor is chemists in the kitchen by lab X, a YouTube video series. And of course, we still have our annual sponsor, the United States personal chef Association. And besides the Over the past 30 years, the world of the personal chef has show notes, I have now gone and put all of our sponsorship info grown in importance to fulfill those dining needs. While the pandemic certainly upended the restaurant experience, it in one place. So if you go to chefs without allowed personal chefs to close that dining gap. Central to all restaurants.com/sponsors, you can find all of the brands and of that is the United States personal chef Association, representing nearly 1000 chefs around the US and Canada. USPCA partners that we're working with. So that means if you provides a strategic backbone to those chefs that includes liability insurance, training, communications, certification, purchase products through these links, it costs you literally and more. It's a reassurance to consumers that the chef coming into their home is prepared to offer them an experience with nothing but I get a small commission, which is going to their meal. USPCA provides training to become a personal help the podcast keep going. But the podcast really relies on our chef through our preparatory membership. Looking to showcase your products or services to our chefs and their clients. podcast sponsors. So here's a word from the United States partnership opportunities are available. Call Angela today at 1-800-995-2138 extension 705 or email her at aprather@uspca.com personal chef Association. for membership and partner info. Are you still keeping your recipes and Docs doing your costing and spreadsheets? Well you should try me is the recipe tool designed for chefs by chefs founded by professional chef Josh Sharkey. Mes transforms your recipe content into a powerful digital format that lets you organize scale train and cost like never before. See why Meez is loved by over 12,000 culinary professionals sign up for FREE account at getmeez.com/ChefsWithoutRestaurants. And on a personal note, I've been using mes almost daily. I wish I had this tool years ago. The ability to quickly scale a recipe up or down or to search across all recipes for single ingredient like pumpkin. And if you really want to get an in depth breakdown, I had mes founder Josh Sharkey on the podcast a few months ago. That was episode 155, released in July of 2020. So go check it out to find out what MES is all about. This episode is presented by chemists in the kitchen by lab X, a YouTube video series spotlighting the power of chemistry and how science and food can bring people together. In each episode, real scientists walk you through things like making your own pickles, the chemistry behind the VJ, the formula for perfect homemade pretzels, and much, much more. It's a love letter to science, cooking and individuality with some great tips on how you can apply real scientific principles to everyday cooking. Plus, it's just a lot of fun. Go to to youtube.com/LABXNAS Hey, Shannon, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming on.

Shannon Smith:

Thank you, Chris. I'm excited to talk to you. Well, I

Chris Spear:

can't wait to hear about all the interesting places you've been. I know you're quite the traveler, what have you been to like 50 countries or something?

Shannon Smith:

I've been to 50 to many of which I've been to multiple times like Italy, I've probably been nearly 30 times back to Italy. But I'm hoping in the next year to add a few to that number 52.

Chris Spear:

Well, nice. I want to hear about so many of those places. I guess it kind of makes sense to start. Let's just talk about what you do for your work and your business. And then we'll kind of go back and forth in the timeline of things. Does that work for you?

Shannon Smith:

Yeah. Well, I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is the middle of the country. And I have the privilege that I get to travel around the world. And I probably travel about 40% of the year. And when I do that I go into countries and communities where I can immerse myself into the culture. I've for many years traveled and did the typical touristy things like you know, museums and all the tours and things like that, which are great. But I was felt like I was missing something I wanted to actually meet the people, I wanted to know where their food came from, how were they preparing this food that I was eating, you know, both in restaurants and street food. And so I found a way to do that. I've done it in many different places. And then I bring it back to my home in Tulsa. And put on these, what I call experiential dinners. And they are six course dinners that are centered around a particular world cuisine, for example, India, or Morocco or Greece. When I have many different cuisines that I that I choose from, and I put them on both it when it's beautiful weather, I do an outside, I have a backyard that can seat 30 to 40 people we decorate, you know, according to the theme, and then during the colder are really super hot months, I do can do them indoors in my home. And it's a great way for me to tell stories with my food. And that's one thing I do. I also teach cooking classes. That's how my career started. And I do fewer of those, but I I love being a teacher. So I throw that into my schedule sometimes. And then I also do quite a bit of charity work I donate these, what I call around the world dinners to in live auctions for charities that I feel very passionate about. They're sold all over the country. And so I go around and do a six course dinner where each course is from a different country from where I've cooked. And then I'm and I'm writing cookbook, so which is suppose hopefully we'll be finished next year. I love what I do. I feel like I have the best job in the world.

Chris Spear:

So traveling, was it something you grew up doing? Did your family travel? Where did you get this love of travel from?

Shannon Smith:

I did travel with my family just in within the United States. We went on a vacation you know every summer, but when I was in college, I my senior year I had the opportunity to study abroad and I went to Vienna, Austria and live there for about five months and was able to travel on the weekends and go to several countries that way so I kind of got the travel bug through that I came home kind of with an attitude Dude, you know, thinking, I don't need Oklahoma, you know, I'm leaving as soon as I can, I'm gonna travel forever. And, of course, that was just a dream. Turns out I love where I live in Oklahoma. But when I was in my 30s, I was with my husband at the time, and he was taking me to a lot of different places around the world, they actually took me back to Vienna, where I had gone to school. And that's kind of when I got the travel bug from that point, especially I was I had was studying food I was studying to become a chef at the time. And that's when I got the bug was when I finally got to go back 15 years after college, and then I started traveling by myself a lot, because, you know, he wasn't really interested in the food part. And that was a way for me to Well, I became very into a very independent and confident single traveler. And, and I have not stopped since I've been doing it for about 15 years now.

Chris Spear:

Well, what did you go to college for? Were you planning on doing something in the culinary field,

Shannon Smith:

I was not, I got a degree in home economics. And I grew up on a little on a ranch in Oklahoma, and I had a home economics teacher in college, her excuse me, in high school, all four years of high school, she was my teacher and I loved her I wanted to be her when I grew up, I wanted to be a home economics teacher. But my emphasis was sewing. And I started sewing when I was a little girl. And even though I was learning, you know, cooking, you know, through all those classes, I was much more interested in the sewing part. So I went to college to get a home economics degree so that I could become a teacher. And again, my emphasis was in sewing and design, I eventually went to graduate school also to study clothing design, I did not become a teacher, because I had a really bad experience with my student teaching program and decided I didn't want to do that. But I did get the degree. And I had a sewing career for about 12 years and I've soaked for the very elite in Oklahoma and became a very accomplished seamstress but had some life changes along the way and a lot of stress and decided to change careers and to go and more into the the cooking world. And even though I had a little bit of experience from you know training in college and really none from growing up my mother was not really a cook. The cooking really did not begin until I was well into my 30s

Chris Spear:

Oh wow. And it's interesting because you're talking about stress but I've heard people say you know the food industry is probably the second stress most stressful next to being like an air traffic controller so I haven't heard of a lot of people leaving an industry because of stress and then getting into food it's often quite the opposite.

Shannon Smith:

That's a really good point. Both correct both of them are very stressful in the body you know sewing I was doing not only dressmaking but interiors, you know draperies and things like that I was you know, bent over a table all day so stressed, you know, really hard on my body. But here now I'm a chef and I'm kind of in the same position. But you know what, I did not enjoy the sewing career I was doing it out of necessity. And it was just a hard time in my life for other reasons. But the cooking that career I'm so fortunate I was able to change careers. I enjoy it so much and even though it's so hard on my body and it's it is extremely stressful like you like you mentioned, to see the joy that people get from my food and from my dinners and the experiences that I offer. And I'm sure you know what I'm talking about because you are a chef and you cook for people when you get that satisfaction. It makes it all worthwhile and I you know I got it from people that I sold for they loved you know the things I made but it was it's different. This is different because I love my job so much now

Chris Spear:

the thing I find is it's so immediate, you know you're cooking food and almost instantly from hopefully you know the first bite going forward or so you just kind of see this look on people's faces and you know right away whether it's something they like or something they don't,

Shannon Smith:

it is instant gratification to see that and and to get the responses afterwards. Even the process even, you know all that chopping and all that stirring and all those dishes you had to wash. It really makes it worthwhile when you see the joy that you've given someone With Your Food.

Chris Spear:

So did you pursue any kind of formal education like culinary schools or programs.

Shannon Smith:

I was in a, a marriage that ended. And it ended. And that was a marriage when I was the seamstress. when it ended, I had two very young children. And I wanted to get full custody, it was very important to me that it under under the circumstances to have full custody, and my attorney told me, she said, Shannon, you've got to get a job with a paycheck. You know, there's the seamstress job, it's just not that lucrative. And you need to prove to the judge, you can support your children. So I got a job through a nonprofit organization here in Tulsa, teaching underprivileged children how to cook. You know, again, I had this education in home economics, I knew the basics of cooking, I had taken all the nutrition, nutrition classes, economics classes. So I had, I had a little bit of background, but I would go into this apartment complex that was state funded. And they had an empty apartment for me to teach cooking after school to these kids. And half of the kids in the apartment complex were black and half were Russians. And I was told before I started this, that they did not get along, the parents didn't get along, the kids didn't necessarily get along, they really just stayed away from each other. But because of this class that was being offered, these kids were coming to me, and mostly because they wanted something to eat, I'm sure. But I was teaching them. So I'm teaching them nutrition. You know, most of them, their parents were on food stamps. So I, you know, had to adjust, you know, the things that I was teaching them by the foods I knew they had available. And what I saw was these kids becoming friends, and they were, you know, cooking together, and they're eating together. And, you know, I'm told later by the manager of the apartment complex, she said, I've not ever seen these kids playing together until you came into their lives like this. And that was a very powerful lesson to me. I knew that I loved food. And I knew I loved to, you know, commune with other people, you know, at a dinner table, but I didn't realize how impactful it was, you know, outside of that. And so I became very interested in becoming a better cook. And so I did go to a cooking school here in Tulsa, it was taught by three CIA grads out of New York, and I took every class they had to offer for about four years and, and eventually, they hired me on to teach the evening classes. So finally, I got to be become the teacher that I had always wanted to be when I was a child, or when I was in high school. And that's where that began. And when people asked me, like, you just did have I had the formal training. Yes, I had that training for the four years from those, you know, CIA grads, but to me, I get the most training, when I travel, and I get to cook with people in their homes. To me, that is some of the best training that I have gotten. So in that respect, I feel like I do have a lot of formal training.

Chris Spear:

Well, I think it's really great to see the the way people come together around a table and it seems idealistic. You know, sometimes people will say, Well, you know, if everyone just got around a table and got to know each other on a certain level, things would maybe be better. And I've heard some pushback. And people say, well, that's not realistic.

Shannon Smith:

I was once told by an older gentleman that I met. And he was talking about the importance of, you know, food, bringing people together, and he said something that really hit home with me, and he said, You can't cuss with your mouth full of food. Oh, that's a good one. And it's and it's so true. I mean, even if you're angry, if you're eating delicious food, you know, with other people, it's hard to be you might you might still be a little miffed, but food just makes it better.

Chris Spear:

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, one of the things you had mentioned was, you know, going into these people's homes and learning directly from them. How do you do that? Like, how did that start? And logistically, how do you do that you want to learn Indian cooking, and you want to go work with these, you know, grandmothers or mothers or whatever in India? How did that come about? Like getting into those people's homes and learning to cook directly from them?

Shannon Smith:

The first time it happened was in Italy. And the way I did that, and this was back about 12 years ago. I knew that I was going to be going to Italy and I'd been are already been probably five times. And I didn't want to do it the same way I didn't want. I wanted to meet someone I could cook with. So I got on the internet and just started and this was back before everyone was offering cooking classes. I mean, they did really kind of just become popular. And I found a woman named Diane seed. And she did gourmet, she called them gourmet tours, and lived in an apartment right outside the Coliseum. And she had this little apartment. And what she would do is occasionally she would bring people in to do two or three days of cooking lessons. And But mostly what she did was take very small groups, I'm talking five or six people to different places around the world to learn the cuisine. So I contacted her and I said, I'm going to be in Rome, can I take one day, a one day class with you? And she said, replied and said I don't do one day, you know, I really need to you could to commit to two or three and I went back. We went back and forth. I said I'm only there one day, will you make an exception. And she did. I spent the day with her just learning mostly Roman Roman dishes, we became very good friends that day, she convinced me to go to Sicily with her a few months later, which I did. And then after that, I went to India, that was my first trip to India, I went to Morocco, Sri Lanka, Istanbul with her. And so on those trips, she set it up, you know, she had, she had been there so many times, she had people there to teach me. But I learned from her how to travel as a single person, especially a single woman. And I learned how to, you know, be confident. And just some of the even though she was much, much older than I that was even actually more impressive that she had the confidence to travel like that. So once we kind of parted ways, not for any particular reason. But she was becoming elderly and not doing them as much I decided I can do this. Also, I didn't want to lead the tours, but I thought I'm going to, you know, find places to cook and people that will do it for me. So there are many times that I do hire a guide. In my second trip to India, I again just got on the internet and just started emailing and emailing friends who do you know anyone in India, that will be my guide for a week that will really put an emphasis on the food, I was set up with a gentleman. When I went to him. I met him in New Delhi. And he was a historian worked for the government and did occasionally did tours. So he was with with me for a week, he had no idea how serious I was about the food. And when I emphasize that first day I said VAB you have to understand I want to eat everything. I want you to take me anywhere you can, and cook with anyone you can that you know. And so he started making phone calls, this should have been done, you know, earlier, but I was new at this. And he took me to his friend's houses and took me to restaurants where he knew the owners and he'd never done a food tour before. At the end of the week. He said Shannon, I have never eaten so much food in all my life. And he said this was great. I need a year to recover from this, but come back. And which I did. I went back a third time and went to met him and Rajastan. And by that time he knew what he was dealing with. So guides are very helpful in that. But also, I asked a lot of questions. I'm a very curious person. I meet people very easily. When I travel alone, I always go to restaurants and sit at the bar. That is one of the best ways to meet people. So I meet the people around me. And then I converse with the bartender, often the chef will come out I'll talk to him or her. I will talk to the manager and I tell them what I do. And everyone's intrigued by you know, I have a good storyteller. And I'll say Do you know anyone that you know, that will teach me Can I come into your kitchen tomorrow? You know what, during your slow time will you teach me how to make this dish? And I'm really I can't even think of one time someone turned me down. When I was in Mexico. Almost two years ago I was getting a massage at a very high end resort. I was there with some friends. I asked the massage Wash therapists, do you know anyone that would teach me how to cook the food from the state it was the state of Nigeria. If I come back, and he said, Well, let me let me have your number and I'll I'll, you know, do some thinking. He A week later, he sends me the number of a woman who is a cookbook author. And as a teacher, I went back the next month, she and I cooked for four days, and an apartment that she rented, just to teach me and we have since become great friends and traveled all over Mexico, because she, and she keeps introducing me to other people that brings me in. So it sounds, you know, complicated. But the bottom line is, I just ask questions, and I and I'm friendly, I don't come across as the the snooty American or when people know that I am genuinely interested in their culture, that I am a good listener, that I really I want to learn, you know, their food, even though even if it's something I wouldn't normally eat, or, or even taste, I always will. And just I show respect for the for these people. And they are very welcome. Very welcoming to me. And I have experienced that all over the world. It's been I'm just very lucky that way.

Chris Spear:

Now, when you first started doing this, was it just for personal enrichment? Like, at what point did you go into it saying, I want to learn how to cook this cuisine to then do a dinner or teach other people.

Shannon Smith:

I was already teaching cooking classes out of my home, not only doing the nonprofit work, but I was, I had kind of started this little business in my home teaching cooking classes and doing and, and so I think my goal was to just learn more abroad, so that I could come back and teach those classes. So that was my motivation, not only just to learn from my own personal growth, but to bring it back here and teach it teach it in my classes,

Chris Spear:

and how much were you prepping yourself before you went? So you go to India and want to learn, you know, some of their traditional recipes? Were you already reading cookbooks? And studying that before? You got there? So you had a pretty good base understanding? versus how much were you just kind of going in blind?

Shannon Smith:

I almost always go in blind? And that's probably not a good answer. And it's probably not. Right. But I rarely do a lot of research on the food before I go, because I kind of want to start ignorant and, and fresh. Just, you know, teach me everything that I prefer it that way. Occasionally, I will have, you know, some knowledge ahead of time, but generally no.

Chris Spear:

Are there any places that really surprised you that maybe you I don't know, went to with modest expectations. And you got there and you were just wowed at how amazing it was?

Shannon Smith:

Yes. Most recently, that would be Mexico. And this was, you know, right at the end of the pandemic, if, if we're at the end of the pandemic, hopefully, you know, we couldn't, we couldn't get traveled out to to Europe yet. And Mexico was just easy for me. It was easy to get to they were letting us in. And so if that had not been the case, I probably would not have chosen Mexico as a place to learn the cuisine. I had been back six times. So over the past two years, again, six times I've been there and all over Mexico and I've learned so much about their cuisine. It is nothing like what I've had in the US as far as authentic Mexican food. I was very surprised at what I learned in Mexico and how diverse the cuisine is there.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, I love Mexican food and cooking. And I haven't been to as many areas there. But did you find one region that you especially loved and were drawn to because the cooking is so diverse across the country?

Shannon Smith:

Well, the first place that I went and learned was the state of nitrate. It's north of Puerto Vallarta. So it's kind of in the Northwest. And they cook with a lot of seafood. Shrimp is very prominent, they're dry trim. But this is all the It's the history and this is something I love learning about different places is the the history of all the different cultures that have influenced that cuisine. And I didn't know how much Chinese and Filipino influence there was in Mexico and particularly in this In this region, they cook us a lot of dried shrimp, which they learned from the Chinese. That's their main protein along the coast. So, so that was the severe Chaze. There are amazing and I always in my mind and my ignorant mind thought Savini che was just a, you know, was a Peruvian and South American dish. It didn't occur to me that it was so prevalent in Mexico. So that's, that's one example. There's another state of Micha Kwan which and I my pronunciation is terrible, but it is a state that is west of Mexico City, about four hours, and their enchiladas, their sauces are very different there, I learned to make a case so Malay, that was just so unique. And I was with this amazing woman. She's actually an ambassador, a diplomat for Mexico, representing their cuisine in the UNESCO program. I've been in Wahaca and learned the seven Malays and cooked with a woman there in her cooking school for a couple of days. And just so that was that's very different. We, we as Americans don't realize how many different Malays there are. It's, you know, people say I don't like Malay, and like the well, maybe you don't like Malay Negro, but there are other Malays that you probably would like,

Chris Spear:

I don't understand why we generalize other countries, you know, we recognize here in the US that what you're eating in Oklahoma is very different than what I'm eating in Maryland. And it's very different from what I grew up with in New England, or when I lived in Seattle, but we easily look at Mexico or Italy or wherever and say, Oh, I don't like Mexican food, or I don't like Chinese food. But it's so diverse. And it's really kind of ignorant, but people still do it. So, you know, I think it's great when you highlight different regions and different things. I do a lot of Mexican cooking with seafood. And people are always saying, Oh, wow, I didn't realize this was a Mexican dish, or, you know, there's such a wide variety. Well, you know, one of the things I love about traveling is also just seeing the way people interact with food and food systems. I just got back from the UK, I was eight days and we went through Wales, and then across the rural countryside and ended up in London. And, you know, like one of the things I noticed over there is they're very sustainably focused over their way more so than the United States. So yes, you know, not just food, but the lack of disposable plastic bags. And when you got takeout, everything's on the bamboo forks, and there's no plastic and people doing really interesting things trying to control waste and reuse food products. So like, what are some things you see in other countries that you wish we would adopt here, if you said, Man, they've really got this down in Japan or whatever?

Shannon Smith:

Well, what you just mentioned, you know, not using the plastic bags and the sustainability. I've seen a lot of that in the Caribbean, particularly believe it or not in Cuba. One of my most memorable experiences was at a sustainable farm in Cuba, where this gentleman uses I mean, he, you know, takes in again, this is my ignorance, because I'm just trying to recall this. But he raises cattle, and he uses the manure to create fuel to, you know, heat his home and which I can't imagine he would need heat the home. It was the hottest place I've ever been in my life, but to fuel for cooking, he grows all his own food he fertilizes emanates was the most sustainable farm I've ever seen. And that was in Cuba. And his goal was to educate the people of Cuba and try to get them to be more responsible. And he's succeeding. He's you know, and he's actually touring the world talking about how he's doing that. Rwanda, Africa, when you go to when you go to the Kigali airport when you land, they go through your luggage. If you have any plastic bags, they will take well, they don't want any plastic bags in their country.

Chris Spear:

That's pretty hardcore. Yeah. Well, I'm sure you have a million travel stories. And I do have a few more travel questions. But we'll come back to those. I want to talk about what you're doing with microfinance and financial education for people. Can you talk about that for a little bit?

Shannon Smith:

I love the program of microfinance. It's a banking function of giving small loans to impoverished people so that they can start their own business. And the these programs are very effective. They work mostly in Third World World countries, and they are mostly used by women. And I became quite involved in this concept I would say back when My husband at the time was writing some books on microfinance, he was an expert on on the subject. And I wanted to become more involved with this other than just, you know, giving money to these programs. So because I had the skill of teaching cooking, I thought if I could go to some of these places where these women are start truck, starting their businesses, and teach them how to cook the food that they grow, or the food that they have available in their markets. So after a series of emails through one of these organizations in Dominican Republic, I went there on two occasions. And if you've ever been to Dominican Republic, you probably have seen the luxury hotels, the pristine beaches, and the resort environment. But what many people don't realize is that just a few yards behind that are very poor people. And communities that have no electricity and no running water. That's where these where I went. And this is where the these programs were being were being used. And so many of these women, and I say women, because it's 90%, women that take advantage of this would have a small business, and it might be something like they sell eggs in their village that's there and they maybe out of a cardboard box. Or perhaps they bake empanadas, maybe they sew clothing or do alterations. I knew someone like that. So I asked if I could come and teach cooking classes to the to these women's. So these women were not particularly going to have a cooking business. But because they were in good standing with their loan, and which they would meet once a week to pay their loans back in their little loan loan groups. If they were in good standing, then they got the privilege. And I say that in quotes of taking an extracurricular class by this American woman that could teach cooking. On the first trip taught probably 60 women over a course of a week how to make say, I went into the market just to see what they had. And I would I made different salads. And I made meatballs. And this is was an interesting lesson for me. I wanted to teach them how to make lemon meatballs, which is a typical recipe in Italy and I had learned it in Rome. And these are beef meatballs that are seasoned with lemon, lemon zest and lemon juice. And they're very good. And I thought okay, they had hamburgers. And I figured they had lemons. Well, when I got there, I learned they don't have lemons. They've never heard of lemons, they only have lines. So I thought well, okay, I'll make lime meatballs. So I taught them how to make the meatballs. They had this giant cast iron pot set over an open fire that was on cinder blocks. And that's where I fried these meatballs and I fried hundreds of them in front of these women. It was so hot. They were fanning me, they were singing gospel songs while I did this. And those were the best meatballs I have ever made. And I have not made them with lemon scents from now on. They're they're lying meatballs.

Chris Spear:

Interesting. I would not think about the combination of lime and meat. It's you know, in the context of like an Italian type dish.

Shannon Smith:

Well try it with lime. It was it was good then and I thought well, maybe it won't be good at home. And it certainly is. But I also have that great memory to go with it. So that's a real that's very dear to my heart is teaching impoverished people how to cook because they're educated, they're, they're smart. They want to work. They want to feed their families, particularly these women, and they just don't know how to do it. And that's something that I can do.

Chris Spear:

I'm sure it's again, like one of those experiences where you're just all together and you can see the energy and the joy when you're cooking. Because again, like cooking just brings people together.

Shannon Smith:

Yes, it does. I've seen it so many times. And I've you know even like this in groups of people that cannot speak my language. I can't speak theirs. But you know, a smile is a language that we all speak you know, so to speak. And food is something that we all have in common. So if you can just sit with people and smile and eat, you are communicating.

Chris Spear:

I really want to talk about these dinners that you're hosting at your home. When you do them on average. How many people are you cooking for?

Shannon Smith:

Well, I sell 30 And I usually Lately, I have so many people wanting and I'll usually allow 35 to 40, which is a lot for me. A lot of people to feed, especially when it's six courses.

Chris Spear:

That is a lot. I mean, I act as a personal chef and cook in people's homes all the time. And a home kitchen is very different than a professional kitchen. So yes, do you have kind of a souped up kitchen at home? That's a little Yeah, a little extra.

Shannon Smith:

I do I have pots and pans stored in closets all over the house. And, you know, all my dishes dishware. And flatware is down one particular hallway. So it, it's quite a sight, but it's well organized. And I and I'm able to do it. I also have a really good team that works with me. So that's, that's helpful, too.

Chris Spear:

Are they the same people? Like do you have, like a full team of regular people who are working with? Yeah, you know, social media, we're having all these discussions about food and food cultures and everything. And you're clearly working with people in other countries to help them. But do you ever get concerned about the conversation about cultural appropriation? You know, I think that's something over the past two years, more and more people are talking about, you know, what, right do maybe white Americans have to be teaching other people's cultures? You know, I look at someone like Rick Bayless, who, to me has done so much for the advancement of Mexican food and culture and so forth. And there's still people out there saying like, he should not be the person we're holding up as a representative of Mexican food. So is that something you've thought about? Or even pushback about?

Shannon Smith:

I have thought about it. I think that Rick Bayless has been a wonderful represent representative of Mexican cuisine, all of the people in Mexico that I have met, have so much respect for him. And so I think that's silly. If someone says that he's not a good representative. I have not had any pushback, at least to my face, that maybe people talk about it behind my back. It was a concern of mine, in writing this book, because like I said, each chapter is from a different place. Many of them are, well, they're all abroad, except for Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is one of the chapters, but it was a concern, you know, what are people going to think? Who is she, you know, writing about this, but I will make it very clear in the introduction, that I am not an expert, I do not claim to be an expert. This is simply what I have experienced and what I want to share from my experiences. And that's what I try to emphasize is, I'm not an expert. I'm not trying to even pretend that I know everything about this cuisine. And I have so much respect for the people that live there. And those that taught me how to do this. And I give them the credit. And my book is the story. Also storybook. It's, which has been the hardest part of writing this book that recipes are, that's easy. It's all the stories that I'm telling that go with them. And you know, each chapter has a whole introduction about, you know, what I did there and what I experienced. But yeah, there's, this is by no means a, that I'm an expert. But then

Chris Spear:

you have guys like Anthony Bourdain, rest in peace, you know, who I think really did an amazing job of highlighting these cuisines. I remember being a young cook reading a cook's tour, you know, after, you know, there's Kitchen Confidential, which is the restaurant life. But that book I really loved in the short lived TV series he had, which was the predecessor to his other shows where, you know, he really went into the depths of these countries, many of which, you know, you had never really seen on TV before, and dive into their culture. And I think if you go at it with the love and the, the reverence, and to just really try and highlight these people in their cuisines that it is appreciated.

Shannon Smith:

I agree. And if you do it with humility, I think that I think it's difficult to criticize someone who's truly humble about it. And you know, I'll be honest, I think if someone's going to be critical, they're just jealous. I mean, that's, that's my experience if they're going to criticize me for you know, putting on a Greek dinner, and I'm not Greek. That's their problem. And there are many more people that are appreciate it and that want to attend. So I haven't had those critics yet. I hope I don't, but I'm ready for it. If it happens,

Chris Spear:

and I think your food everyone's food would be boring if you stuck to one cuisine. I mean, I grew up in New England, I have zero interest and having my personal chef business here be just a representative. Just a representation of the food I ate growing up, you know, like you, I'm drawing from all these places I've been and experiences I've had and you know, my guests love it. And for me, that's what's important. And if I can teach them about the cultural heritage of a dish or something as much as I know, that's what I want to do, I'm not again saying I'm this is going to be the best Mexican dinner you've ever had. But if I can give them an amazing dining experience that brings in some of those foods, I've done what I set out to do.

Shannon Smith:

That's right. And they'll love it. And if they have a great experience, they'll appreciate the effort you put into it.

Chris Spear:

So from a business standpoint, is there anything you wish you knew, business wise, before you started? Like, if you could go back and tell a younger version of you, hey, this is maybe something you should do differently? What would that be?

Shannon Smith:

Well, I would certainly tell myself, you are not going to get rich doing this. But from a business, I would say, get help, don't try to do this alone, get you know, get a an accountant, that will will help you with, with all of that there's insurance issue with me, I get extra insurance, because I do have people in my home. And so there are just a lot of that, you know, the the liquor licenses, all of these things that protect your business, you know, you need to do the research and find out what you need to do to protect yourself.

Chris Spear:

I tell everyone, for me liability insurance is the number one thing you know, as a as a personal chef, right? Your personal chef, your caterer you're going into people's houses. And I ended up needing way more than I thought, you know, I'm like, a million dollars in coverage. And then I roll into these houses or like, the house alone is probably a couple mil and they've got like six cars in the driveway. And like if the stove catches on fire, and I bring this whole place down, like a million in liability is not even going to come close to covering that. Like, you know, God forbid, you get someone sick, something happens. And for me, I say like, that's the very beginning thing. And it's not that expensive to have liability insurance and have good liability insurance, is really look into that before you start going into people's homes, feeding them food cooking in their place, or having them over to your place. That's for me has been the number one.

Shannon Smith:

Yeah, and a lot of young people don't they don't have a clue about that. I mean, I didn't somebody had to tell me,

Chris Spear:

the mindset of was it. Don't ask for permission, beg for forgiveness, and that works for some of the minor infractions. But if you have a bigger incident, that's not really gonna cut it for you. That's right. Well, I'm sure you knew this question is coming, because you've listened to some of the shows. But what does it mean to you to be a chef? You know, I love asking this question, and I kind of want to get your take on it.

Shannon Smith:

It's a good question. Because I know that I have competitors, if you want to call them that I can really, they think they're competitors that say, Oh, is she she's not really a chef. She's not a trained chef. I've heard that before. And, you know, I loved what Carla Hall said in the little intro that you did for her. A chef is, you're the head of the kitchen for me, you know, it's chief. And so whatever kitchen I am in cooking, I am the chief I'm the boss. And I'm the leader, I should say. And so for that, that's what a chef is. But I don't believe that a chef has to be trained in a in an institution, you know, just for training chefs, I think that there are other ways to become one, which is how I went about doing it?

Chris Spear:

Well, I think it's a fairly modern thing to get professional training and also kind of a Eurocentric, I imagine, you see people in many of these countries, and you wouldn't imagine that these people in Africa or Cuba or Mexico went to a formal culinary school, they just learn how to cook.

Shannon Smith:

That's right. I know kids that can't, you know, kids that came out of the CIA that can't cook there are a lot of them, they cannot cook they they didn't have the maturity, to absorb it to study and to really earn they didn't fall in love with it. So is it okay, you can call them a chef, you know, I think you really, you have to love it and be very good at what you do and constantly strive to learn more and to become better.

Chris Spear:

And this may sound tacky or cheesy, but I really do think that cooking with love and the passion and the connection to the cuisine makes it so much better. You know, I think for so long culinary schools focused on meticulous technique and making a plate of food look a certain way. But to me a lot of that food is so hollow and empty. How many times have you gone to a very nice restaurant, and they present this food and it looks beautiful and it tastes good? But it's just lacking that soul depth connection, whatever you want to call it. And I to this day, I still say I would rather just go get like a $7 Taco somewhere than most of these places serving these. Oh overly trite to be honest, like $18 plates of food that are two bytes like, it just doesn't have any depth for me, and maybe I'm a bad chef for saying that. But that's just kind of where I stand.

Shannon Smith:

I agree. And I can't tell you how many times I wanted to walk in a kitchen and hand them a box of salt. You know, why can they not put some salt on it? I mean, I'm a big advocate of salt, I collect salt. In my travels, I love what salt does for food. And, to me, that's my that is my biggest complaint really, is that food is not seasoned properly. But in my cooking, I don't do all the little I don't use squirt bottles, and I don't use foam. And I'm not criticizing that it's just not my style. But yes, you can definitely tell when there's not heart and sold put into a dish. And it is a shame when it's in. You know, when it's in a pretentious restaurant and cost a lot of money. It's disappointing. And I'm like you I would much rather go to a taco truck and get get a really yummy taco or a juicy cheeseburger than to have a pretentious bite of food that really doesn't even taste like anything.

Chris Spear:

Well, is there anything else that you would like to share? Before we get out of here today that we haven't already talked about?

Shannon Smith:

Yes, something I like to tell people, really anybody that has any skill at all, whether it's sewing, reading, cooking, crocheting, whatever, but particularly with cooking, which is an learn skill. If you have a skill like that, teach it to someone else, share it and give it away. There are so many people that would love to learn how to cook that, you know, I can't How many times do you hear I don't know how to cook. Of course, I tell them it takes practice. But just to teach somebody how to make what maybe one dish? Or maybe what how to hold a knife, how to cut an onion. I can't tell you how many people I've taught how to properly cut an onion. And years later, they come back and say, oh my gosh, I think of you every time I cut an onion. So my advice to anyone is, if you have a skill, give it away and teach it to someone else.

Chris Spear:

I love that. Well, where do you want to send people people? Listen to the show they love connecting with my guests? Where on the internet? Would you like or off the internet? Would you like people to connect with you? If that's something you're into?

Shannon Smith:

Well, of course I have. I do have a website. And it's Chef shannon.com. I have many of my travel stories that are there. It's where you can sign up for my events, you can come to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and let me feed you. And all my recipes are there too. I have over probably 150 recipes that are from around the world that are on Chef shannon.com. And then you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook at chef Shannon Smith.

Chris Spear:

And I always put all that stuff in the show notes. So if people aren't taking notes while they're listening, it's going to be a clickable link in the show notes. Well, thank

Shannon Smith:

you. Well, thanks

Chris Spear:

so much for coming on the show. I enjoyed talking to you. I love hearing about new places. And again, seeing all the or I guess hearing all the interesting things people are doing in the world of food.

Shannon Smith:

Well, thank you for having this podcast. I think it's a wonderful concept. And I love listening to all the people that are Chefs Without Restaurants because there are a lot of us out there.

Chris Spear:

Well I love hearing that. Thank you. And to all of our listeners. This has been Chris with the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. Thanks so much and have a great day. Go to chefs without restaurants.org To find our Facebook group, mailing list and shift database to communities free to join. You'll get gig opportunities, advice on building and growing your business and you'll never miss an episode of our podcast. Have a great week.