The Brilliant Life of B. Smith, Culinary Icon & Entrepreneur

The restaurateur, cookbook author, and TV personality died at age 70—but left an indelible mark on the way we eat and live.

February 27, 2020

Earlier this week the trailblazing B. Smith, lifestyle entrepreneur, restaurant owner, TV personality, and former model died after a yearlong struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The news of her departure arrived via Facebook, where her husband, Dan Gasby, announced to her fans and friends her passing. “Heaven is shining even brighter now that it is graced with B.'s dazzling and unforgettable smile,” he wrote. Her full name was Barbara Elaine Smith.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Smith caught her break as a model in the 1960s when she signed with Wilhelmina models in New York City. She garnered fame and recognition in 1976 when she appeared as the one of the first black women on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine.

As her influence grew, Smith expanded into other areas of interests. First, restaurants, with her eponymous line of Manhattan eateries; then, cookbooks, a lifestyle magazine, a line of kitchen and home products, and a weekly television show, B. Smith With Style. The syndicated half-hour show featured segments on home decor and cooking.

Her command over both the culinary and domestic arts led some to deem Smith the “black Martha Stewart,” an epithet she railed against. Smith told New York magazine in a 1997 interview: "Martha Stewart has presented herself doing the things domestics and African Americans have done for years...We were always expected to redo the chairs and use everything in the garden. This is the legacy that I was left. Martha just got there first."

After decades of success, Smith noticed signs of increased forgetfulness. And in 2013, at the age of 64, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She spent the remaining years of her life bringing awareness to the disease with an emphasis on educating African-American communities on its effects.

Smith’s absence was felt on social media, as admirers and friends shared their love for the late icon.

Our thoughts are with those B. is survived by, including her husband and stepdaughter, Dana.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.