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'Frugal' fans hunger for information, not just recipes


Jeff Smith was feeling feisty as he toured Chicago promoting "The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook" (Morrow, $22). Before talking about the book, the television celebrity wanted to respond to an article in New York Newsday. It mentioned "rumors that his recipes aren't original" and "in some cases . . . they're almost identical to recipes in other cookbooks."

"No I'm not a chef," he said. "But I'm a good teacher. I take recipes [from other sources]. Of course I do. But I give credit. My research [on ethnic cuisines and food history] may not be perfect, but I make a conscious effort and treat the material with respect. I'm not ashamed. People understand what we are up to."

What he is up to in his seventh book is trying to satisfy a hunger that goes beyond a need for food. The book contains "reflections for contemporary living."

"People are hungry for communication, and the best time to communicate is over a meal," he explained. "They're hungry for meaning, history, memories. We did a one-hour special on soda fountains, and I've never received so much mail. A man praised our show on the history of the tomato. 'Do you like tomatoes?' I asked him. 'Hate tomatoes,' he told me. 'Love history.' "

"The kids on the show are genuinely interested in working in the kitchen," Mr. Smith says. "We teach them and the rest of our audience to cook from scratch not just because the food is healthier, cheaper and tastes better, but because it's more fun."

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