Jeff Smith, 65; Pastor, PBS’ ‘Frugal Gourmet’

From Staff and Wire Reports

Jeff Smith, a white-bearded minister who became public television’s popular “Frugal Gourmet” before a sex scandal ruined his career, has died, his business manager announced Friday in Seattle. He was 65.

Smith died in his sleep Wednesday, Jim Paddleford said. He had long suffered from heart disease, and had a valve replaced in 1981.

In the 1960s, Smith, a United Methodist minister, began teaching a course at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., titled “Food as Sacrament and Celebration.”


Eventually he got his own program on the local PBS affiliate -- “Cooking Fish Creatively” -- and his career took off with an appearance on Phil Donahue’s talk show.

“The Frugal Gourmet” -- by “frugal,” Smith said he didn’t mean cheap but to “use everything and [be] careful with your time as well as your food products” -- became one of the nation’s most-watched shows of its kind.

He cooked, chatted and charmed, creating legions of fans, mostly among folks who wanted to make a nice meal and have fun doing it.

A series of accompanying cookbooks broke sales records for the category; his first sold more than 1 million copies and his first two were in the top spots on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.

But in 1997, seven men filed a lawsuit alleging that they had been sexually abused by Smith as youths. Six said the abuse occurred while they worked for him at the Chaplain’s Pantry, a cooking school, delicatessen, wine shop and catering service he operated in Tacoma in the 1970s that offered Scripture verses about food along with items for sale. The seventh man alleged that Smith abused him after picking him up as a hitchhiker in 1992.

Smith was soon off the air.

Just before a civil trial was to begin in 1998, a settlement for an undisclosed amount was reached between the accusers and Smith’s insurers. Smith denied the allegations and was never charged with a crime.


A native of Seattle, Smith earned his master’s degree from the divinity school at Drew University in New Jersey and was ordained in 1965, becoming pastor of a church in Tacoma.

He is survived by his wife, Patricia, whom he married in 1965, and two sons.