Michael Smith’s degree from the University of Southern Colorado may have been in psychology, but the culinary arts are where he is most adept. Most chefs and restaurateurs would also agree that psychology is the perfect foundation for a career in the culinary business. Following college, Smith went to work at Chateau Pyranees in Denver, where he studied and worked under Chef Jean-Pierre Lelievre and, later, Chef George Mavrothalassitis (now in Hawaii). In 1985 he traveled to Nice and Cassis in the south of France, cooking and learning, and was struck with the French approach — artisanal products and fresh, local ingredients.
It was a lesson he carried back to the U.S. when he went to Chicago in 1987 to work as Sous Chef at Charlie Trotter's. Two years later he returned to Nice to be the Executive Chef at L'Albion. Upon his eventual return to Chicago in 1991, he worked as Co-Chef at Carlos' in Highland Park and then Executive Chef at Gordon until 1994. Moving on to Kansas City, he took over The American Restaurant and while there, Smith won the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Midwest, 1999. Kansas City had never before had a chef so honored. The James Beard Awards weren’t through, however — Smith’s restaurant, Forty Sardines won Best Restaurant Design in 2002.
His newest venture is a duo of restaurants under one roof at 1900 Main Street in Kansas City's Crossroads Art District. Restaurant MichaelSmith and Extra Virgin may share an address, but not much else. Namesake Michael Smith is the epitome of fine dining and high class with a 500+ Wine Spectator awarded cellar, while Extra Virgin is a trendy Mediterranean tapas restaurant with one of the city's coolest al fresco dining areas and a spectacular bar that complements the adventurous menu. Smith is still winning awards, with 2011 Pitch Magazine Readers Choice "Best Chef Kansas City" and now two years in a row, KC Magazine "Best Chef" 2012 and 2013.
Michael not only owns and operated two of Kansas City's best restaurants; he has a busy schedule of guest chef appearances around the country and abroad and is sought after by the media as an industry spokesperson.
What makes Kansas City a great place for creativity and innovation?
There is a tremendous amount of connectivity between the creative arts. Whether its food, music, theatre, film or art, we seem to thrive on great relationships and respect for one another.
When and where are you happiest?
When I’m at home with Nancy. We like to entertain with our friends, and I cook themed dinners like Thai, Morrocan or Mexican.
What is your favorite place in Kansas City?
I don’t really cruise around KC when I’m not working. Typically I am happiest when I’m on my corner of 19th and Main Street.
Where's your favorite place outside of Kansas City?
Anywhere I’m traveling. We always check out local markets, restaurants and museums.
What's your most treasured personal possession?
My collection of cook books.
Who's your favorite fictional hero?
Don Juan…or Batman.
Who do you most admire in real-life?
My wife Nancy, she is always moving; she takes care of me like no other. She is so giving and thoughtful of other people in our lives. I wish I could be that generous.