Art Smith reveals his tips and tricks for making your Christmas super Southern

Oprah Winfrey's former personal chef and restaurateur Art Smith is known around the world for his succulent southern cuisine.

From crispy fried chicken to shrimp and grits and collard greens, Smith's dishes have been pleasing the rich

The James Beard Award recipient recently returned home to Florida to open his latest restaurant, Homecoming in Disney Springs at Walt Disney World in Orlando. The jovial chef dishes to about some of Oprah's favorite things plus some of his signature tips and tricks behind cooking a proper southern meal for the holidays. Why is food so important when it comes to family time?

Art Smith: I wrote my first cookbook because I wanted to write a book about bringing families back to the table. We created the book using stories and food and how they both connect people. A story makes food taste better. Food doesn’t taste good unless it connects people.

The recipes we use at Homecoming Florida Kitchen are based on my mother's cooking. That tells our guests a little something about me and my family with every bite. In the restaurant, there’s a picture of the two of us holding a platter of the chicken at my home in Jasper.  My now world famous fried chicken doesn't re-invent the concept but it's how my mother made it. I am sharing a part of me on our menu.

10 CREATIVE CHRISTMAS DESSERTS  What is the first thing you ever cooked for Oprah?

I got a message from Andre who was Oprah’s hairdresser asking me to come cook for them. “I want you to come make lunch for us at the studio tomorrow," he said. The next day I flew up to Chicago. I made Oprah paella salad with fresh vegetable and poached seafood in it, [and] I made itsy bitsy key lime pies.

I did that for 2 months before I became Oprah’s chef, it was like a very long audition.  Can you share some tips on putting together a great Southern Christmas meal?

To make your Christmas Southern is really a state of mind. A "Southern state of mind" requires slowing down the pace of the cooking and the meal. That's why good barbecue is cooked low and slow. That's why beans and greens are simmered to soak up flavor. Whether they are herbs or produce, an ingredient you have nurtured in the garden brings robust flavor to the table.  What dishes would you bring to Christmas dinner?

Cornbread dressing is one of my favorite dishes to make and I also love to serve a turkey for Christmas. Corn bread salad is good too because you don’t need to heat things up.  Try to only have one hot dish. I always make sure I have a lot of mac and cheese for the children. I’d rather have happy children than screaming children. I’m also all about dessert and fresh bread. My favorite dessert is hummingbird cake or my great grandmother’s 12-layer chocolate cake.  What is the greatest lesson Oprah taught you? 

Know your audience and the greatest gifts are those that help and uplift others. Food is peace. I did a Ted Talk about that.  Never forget: Fried chicken takes no sides. Success is not determined by our bank accounts, it is what we do for one another. What are some important things to keep in mind when entertaining for the holidays?

Keep it simple. A lot of fluff and real simple food. I’m a big believer in making things that you’ve had. At the holidays keep it traditional don’t try to make the latest recipe out of the newest magazine. That’s all good but don’t make it on the day you are stressed, don’t put yourself through that! Your family doesn’t care, they just want something beautiful.

With Oprah, we never did plated food, never! Why? Because just saying to someone that’s all you get, so eat it and be happy. She didn’t like that. Oprah thought food should be plentiful and wonderful. So, don’t do a plated thing.

BEST WINTER BEERS TO BRING ON THE HOLIDAY CHEER Are there any childhood memories that influence your Christmas today? 

I can't stress enough the importance of bringing people together through food at any holiday. My childhood memories are of family gatherings, music, laughter and a sense of peace and hope. The world spins so fast. Cherish that time when all can gather for a meal. Engage and listen to your children. Hold hands. Hug. Make it a human experience. We all need to be kind to one another.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.