Smollett Eats at ‘The Family Table’: Jake Smollett Talks Family, Career, and New Cookbook

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Jake Smollett

You may know him from the famous family name, the Smolletts but Jake Smollett, the second to the youngest of the clan, has a name of his own. In 1992, Jake had his first TV role on ‘Hangin With Mr. Cooper,’ and other roles from that day, including On Our Own with all his siblings in 1994. From Hollywood to the kitchen, this home chef knows his way around a set of pots and pans. Making a career out of the kitchen, he has embarked on another journey outside of Hollywood and we’re here for it. If you haven’t seen some of his food you’re in for a treat with the new, The Family Table cookbook alongside siblings, Jussie, Jurnee, and Jazz Smollett. They’ve combined their love for culture, food, and family and mixed it in a big melting pot creating what is now for us to feast on.

The most admirable quality about the Smollett clan is they are a real family. They genuinely love and support one another through and through. The close-knit bond between them is unbreakable and that’s so important to display as a family for the world to see. Their humble beginnings are the reason for their modesty today. Seeing diverse cultures growing up, from LA to NY gave different points of views for the siblings. I had the opportunity to talk with Jake for the QG, and we talked about family and being a home chef. The new Smollett venture has been pursuit of their first-ever cookbook, The Family Table.  Check out our interview!

You’ve got five siblings growing up, of course six including you. What was that like growing up?

It was great. It was built-in friendship. It was just nonstop fun. Still to this day, we are tight and hanging out on a regular. Yeah, being the fifth of six was great. We call ourselves a “farm family.” There was always so many of us just hanging out.

Who are you the closest with? Who’s your go-to or is it everybody?

You know, that always just switches off. I mean, there are no favorites just because everybody plays a different role at a different time. It honestly is a fact of there will be months where you’re talking more to one sibling than the other, but then that sibling, something changes in their life and they’re busy now and then you’re talking to another sibling. I’m always bouncing off of each one of them, so that always changes.

It’s not necessarily about being closer to, it’s just about being in more of the direct know. Jocqui right now for me is the brother that I speak to the most. My other brother’s married. He’s busy. Jussie’s busy. We say it’s crazy, the amount that we talk to each other, considering we’re all adults and we all have our own lives, careers, and stuff.  It really is a blessing to have so many siblings, because we can always fall back on one of them or all of them.

I know that you credit your parents for your diverse taste in food, especially your mom from New Orleans, right? You pull a lot of influence from her.

Yeah, my mom was born in New Orleans. My dad was born in Pennsylvania and raised in New York in Queens and two really strong cultures. My dad is Russian-Jewish and my mom is black from New Orleans. They just bring a certain level of culturally diverse food. We grew up eating Jewish food, we grew up eating Louisiana sausages on bagels. We grew up having both sides of that. We talk a lot about it in our book, which we call a “cooking memoir,” how we grew up with food and how important food was in our family. We got some really good diverse recipes in the book; 130 recipes that we ate growing up and recipes we picked up along the way. It’s a fun little book.

How did you all come up with the title of it?

Basically, it comes from the fact that we never ate at a dining table that my mom had built with bare hands. It really comes from us growing up around the country, moving back and forth between New York and LA and always having the family table to go back to to have our family dinners and that that was our grounding place. We knew we were going to have that time with our family at the end of the day.

We came up with the name The Family Table, went out and pitched it and landed at Harper Collins. They’ve been so great. It’s been a wonderful experience. This is our first book, so it’s a blessing to have a great experience on the first one.

From Hollywood, now in the kitchen, when did you first fall in love with food? Was it six-years-old?

Yeah. I first started cooking at six. I first made a family-style lasagna. I used to always watch my mom in the kitchen, so I knew that she used fresh tomatoes and it was really, really layered and the meat sauce and how thick it needed to be. I’ve paid attention to all that. She finally handed the kitchen over to me at six and I was like, “Okay, let me do what I can.” It went over well. Everybody loved it. From then on, I just really picked up a love for it.

You’ve deemed yourself as a “home chef.” Define that. What is a home chef, exactly?

The home chef is just home elevated meals, like elevating in any way, bringing that freshness to any dish you make and having that kind of standard when you cook at home. It’s no trained chef, but it’s bringing that level and having fun with it at home. That’s what the home chef means to me.

Before cooking on TV, you and Jussie actually had a YouTube series called “Restaurant Ready.” How long ago has that been now since you all had that?

That was seven years ago, those little three-minute segments out of my Hollywood kitchen.  Jazz and her husband, Troy, my brother-in-law Troy, were shooting those little segments with me. We were airing them on the bus here in Los Angeles. From that, Jussie and I cook a lot together and he ended up doing it with me. Then, we did this whole brothers thing, we pitched it to Food Network. That’s how Smollett Eats came about.

Will there be a restaurant next?

I’m definitely exploring my options as far as restaurants go. Definitely, it’s something that I would want in my future, having some kind of space that I can go to and be with the people who you’re cooking for. I like the whole live cooking aspect, of being with the people who are eating your food. I love cooking on TV, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about just having a space you could go back to. I definitely think that’s in my future.

How did you get hooked up with Rachael Ray as well on the Food Network? I know that was like a dream come true for you. That was a big deal.

Yeah, that was actually my goal when I set out to start doing cooking stuff. Yeah, it was my goal to cook with Rachael Ray and cook on Food Network and have a cookbook and everything I’m actually doing right now.  It’s really a blessing.

Smollett Eats came out of that on Food Network, right?

Yeah, that was on the Food Network. Then, I met with Rachael and her team to do a guest spot just promoting Smollett Eats. We all hit it off, me and the producers. Then, they wanted me for the whole season. That relationship that I’ve gained from Rachael Ray and just seeing her in action is priceless.

Talk about Smollett Eats and that experience and what was that like actually taping it and with your siblings and your mom was on an episode, which I thought was amazing. Just talk about that.

It was a great experience, as always. Like I talked about earlier, just the love from my siblings, getting to work with them is even better. It’s just nonstop fun. Yeah, it was a great experience.

I know that Jazz has the drunken peaches. If you had to say what everybody, including yourself, does really well, what would that one signature dish be?

My older brother does homemade pizza really well, Jojo. Then, Jazz is really known for, we call her the “Bean Queen” as a joke, but she throws down on beans, black beans, red beans, everything. I would say Jazz is more, she’s skilled with baking. She can really, really just pull out a pan and just start going to town and you’ll just see flour everywhere, chocolate. She’s got some chocolate mousse, something fancy, vegan deliciousness. Jussie’s really known for sweet and savory. He loves peas and he’ll put that in a curry rice. He’s really good with stir-fry. Whenever I visit him in Chicago, he’ll make me a shrimp or a white fish stir-fry with cauliflower rice. Delicious.

Jurnee’s really hearty. She makes a good hen, yo, stuffed with a brown rice, spinach, cheesy concoction in the stuffed hen. She made that since we were kids, known for hens. Then, my favorite thing to cook is, I love wings. Wings are my favorite thing to cook and to eat, so hot wings, barbecue wings, teriyaki wings, anything, love to grill. I’m known for grilling, barbecues, and stuff.

Then, my younger brother, Jocqui, he’s getting into cooking. It’s so funny. After college, he kind of has really taken up cooking. He was the youngest. He’ll call me and be like, “How do you make that smothered chicken, again? Please send me that recipe.” I’m like the cooking sensei for him. He really, really has taken up cooking. I visited him, he lives in the Bay. He made a pasta that I was like, “Yo, he’s killing it.” Jocqui is a pasta fanatic. He loves noodles, loves pasta.  

That’s what brings in the diversity, is that they’re recipes that we really ate growing up, me and my siblings.  you’ll see the homemade pizza. You’ll see the red beans. You’ll see all the baked goods. You’ll see the New Orleans roots chapter, where we have all of the food that our mom made growing up. It’s a really fun book.  At the end of the day, we learned how to cook from our mom. She’s the queen of it, so definitely majority recipes are my mom’s.

You like to cook with garlic and cayenne pepper, are your favorites, right?

I love it, love foods with a lot of garlic. My grandmother actually ships me pounds and pounds of garlic from New Mexico and black garlic and fresh, fresh garlic. The peels are still wet, it’s so fresh.  Yeah, I love garlic.  My mom is always like, “You got a cold? Eat some garlic. Use garlic, raw garlic …”  It’s real healthy.

What else are you working on, anything else? I know you’re also quite the photographer as well, because you shoot all your food pictures, right, all your food shots?

Yeah. I’m just trying to get the word out about the book right now, about to start the book tour in a bit. I’m about to launch my YouTube channel with some cool recipe videos and content and working on a few productions right now, so I’m excited.

Where will you guys be with the book tour? What cities will you be hitting? Is it just going to be you or is it going to be everyone?

It’ll be sporadic. We’re hitting New York, New Orleans, Atlanta, LA. Yeah, so we’re going around, April through the summer.

Where can everyone go to keep up with you and all the goodness and all the recipes?

Jakesmollett.com or follow me on Instagram. Yeah, I’m Jake Smollett on every platform, so it’s easy.

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