Celebrity chefs Spike Mendelsohn, left, and Art Smith discuss a healthy journey to wellness during an interview with The Associated Press in Miami Beach, Fla., at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011. The Obamas are fans of Mendelsohn's Washington, D.C., pizza cafe. Smith served as Oprah Winfrey's personal chef. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Defending the often frenzied food celebrity culture, chefs Art Smith and Spike Mendelsohn said Saturday that more stars should use their status to promote healthy eating.
Smith, who rose to fame as Oprah Winfrey's personal chef, said the American public loves personalities, so chefs — and athletes and movie stars — might as well tap into that fascination to do some good.
"If you don't make it sexy, if you don't make it fun, they're not going to buy into it. And the fact is, for so long, when it came to health and wellness, it was not fun," said Smith, who has made healthy eating a public focus since losing a considerable amount of weight in recent years. Offering even a few healthier menu items can make a difference, he said.
"What will change America most effectively and efficiently will be more chefs like Spike, like me, like Jamie (Oliver), getting on the bandwagon," Smith said in an Associated Press interview at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
Mendelsohn, a contestant on "Top Chef: Chicago," and chef and owner of Good Stuff Eatery and We, the Pizza restaurants in Washington, D.C., acknowledged that food television has become more about entertainment than teaching people to cook, but he believes it is slowly coaxing people back to the kitchen.
"Most people out there get anxiety in the kitchen. I feel with all this television, all these chefs doing demonstrations, they're starting to learn this is really not that hard," said Mendelsohn.
And even people who aren't interested in cooking for themselves can be spurred to think more about their food choices by celebrity chefs, he said.
"If we can get that education through entertainment, if that's the way we can deliver it to you and make you understand about food, I think that's the best way," he said.
Smith challenged actors and athletes to follow the lead of celebrity chefs.
"I want to see these amazing sports people say, 'Hey, the reason I look like this is because I eat this,'" he said. "We are so star struck that if these people with power would say, 'I feel great because this is part of my regimen,' people will buy into that."