2021 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award: Bill Smith
Bill Smith has led significant progress in the South, working in restaurant kitchens as an activist, author, and chef. From immigration rights to LBGTQ+ rights to pride in place through foodways, he has championed causes and narratives that reshaped our region and set the South on a path toward a more equitable and inclusive future.
Born in New Bern, North Carolina, Smith opened a nightclub and music venue, the Cat’s Cradle, in Chapel Hill in the 1970s, nurturing the town’s arts and music scene. He brought inspiration from his family culinary traditions to Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, where he took over from Bill Neal as chef in 1991.
Smith retired from Crook’s Corner in early 2019. His legacies include nationally celebrated recipes such as Green Tabasco Chicken and Atlantic Beach Pie, some of which may be found in his 2005 book Seasoned in the South.
Each year since 1999, when SFA first honored Edna Lewis, the SFA presents the Lifetime Achievement Award to an individual whom all thinking eaters should know, the sort of person who has made an indelible mark upon our cruising and culture, who has set regional standards and catalyzed national dialogues.
In recognition of that life of work, SFA commissions a portrait by Oxford, Mississippi artist Blair Hobbs and produces a film to share the story of the honoree. The 2021 film, Look After, directed by SFA Pihakis foodways Filmmaker Zaire Love, premieres at the 24th Southern Foodways Symposium on October 16. A Maker’s Mark toast to Smith’s life and legacy follows the premiere, featuring cocktails and mocktails from Erin Ashford, bartender at Olamaie in Austin, Texas.