Hazel Smith Cooks With Country Stars

To add the country connection to your holiday table, check out some of the recipes from Hazel Smith’s cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars. Additional recipes will be added throughout the week, so check back often.

Hazel Smith’s friends include many who are immediately identified with one name only. Garth and Vince immediately come to mind, but Smith’s circle of friends also includes Emeril.

Having spent more than three decades in the Nashville music industry, it’s not surprising that she has longstanding relationships with numerous country stars, but Smith’s friendship with superstar chef Emeril Lagasse began earlier this year following the publication of her cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars. When Smith went to New York to tape an episode of the Emeril Live television series, she took along one of the contributors to her cookbook — Brad Paisley .

Smith is a terrific cook, but she is also a fixture within the Nashville music industry. And considering that she seldom holds back her opinions or observations, some might say that she’s the conscience of the country music business. These days, Smith serves as a radio correspondent for WFMS-FM in Indianapolis and continues her lengthy tenure as a columnist for Country Music magazine. During the ‘70s, she worked as publicist for singer-songwriter Tompall Glaser, who was bending the rules of country music with the help of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson . She soon coined the phrase “The Outlaws” which defined the era of progressive country music.

Although Smith has spent much of her life writing, she never planned to publish a cookbook. She changed her mind when RCA Label Group executive Renee Bell made the suggestion. Years before, Smith had introduced Bell to RCA/Nashville chief Joe Galante, who hired her on the spot to work in the company’s artists and repertoire department.

“For some reason, she got this idea that she owed me,” Smith laughs. “She thought if I did a cookbook, I’d make a lot of money. I have not made a lot of money off the cookbook, but I’ve had a wonderful, wonderful time.”

Bluegrass legend Bill Monroe taught Smith about the connection between music and food, a tradition that covers many generations. “When they started the string music back in the mountains when they came over from Ireland, they’d eat supper and then play music after supper,” she explains. “I guess it just went together from then. When you’d have a guitar pull at somebody’s house, you’d always eat, too. It just goes with it. It’s just a Southern thing, I suppose.”

Smith’s cookbook includes contributions from Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Ricky Skaggs , Jo Dee Messina and many others. However, she concedes the best country cooks aren’t afraid to experiment. “Most people who do country cooking like I do, they may have a recipe in their mind that they go by,” she says. “But as far as having a recipe on how to cook green beans or pinto beans or butter beans or peas or cabbage or turnip greens, there ain’t no way to give you a recipe on that. You just learn how to do it. It’s sort of handed down.

“A lot of it is in the seasoning. Any vegetable I cook, I put sugar in it. Not a whole bunch of sugar — not a cup of sugar — but enough sugar. I also use pork fat to season my vegetables. I don’t like the smoked pork; I like the salt pork. Emeril does too. He told me the same thing. I had no earthly idea that he seasons the same way I do, but he does.”

What are her favorite recipes in the cookbook? “Well, I think my banana pudding is the best in the world,” she says as a matter of fact. It should be noted that the dessert got high marks from Lagasse, too.

Another favorite is Marty Stuart ’s fudge pie. “The reason I like Marty’s fudge pie so much is because you don’t have to worry with the crust,” she says. “You can make 10 of those things if you want to, and serve an army of people. It’s always delicious and always easy to make. It’s his mother’s recipe.”

Part of the joy of cooking is the joy of sharing. “If you want an easy-to-make bread for the holidays, make that pumpkin bread from Phil Vassar’s recipe,” she says. “It makes three loaves. You take one loaf to the person at church who’s sick or an older person or someone in a nursing home. Just put a piece of Saran wrap around it, put a ribbon on it and stop on the way and give it to somebody at the nursing home. It’s a wonderful thing. They would love to have something like that.”

For some recipes from Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, click here.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.