Art Smith talks chicken and politics at ‘Top Chef Masters’ viewing party

In Washington to host the weekly “Top Chef Masters” viewing party at his Southern-inspired restaurant Art and Soul, Art Smith (who is a contestant on the Bravo reality show) has a message for his fellow fried chicken lovers at Chick-fil-A: “Be kind.”

From executive chef at the Florida governor’s mansion to gigs cooking for President Obama and his family, Smith has a long history of working at the intersection of cuisine and politics. So it’s perhaps only natural that he’s wading into the biggest food fight of the moment, between the fast-food chain and gay-rights supporters.

Although Chick-fil-A has previously attracted criticism for donating to anti-LGBT-rights groups through its foundation, the controversy reached a fever pitch after President/COO Dan Cathy delivered contentious remarks on the issue of gay marriage.

“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’ ” Cathy told “The Ken Coleman Show“ in June.

Last week, supporters of the chain delivered record-breaking sales with “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” while detractors organized kiss-ins at restaurants around the country.

“Is that necessary? Is it really necessary to bring politics and religion into food?” asks Smith. “No. You know, one of my favorite sayings here is ‘Fried chicken takes no sides.’ The only side it does take is it takes a side against hate. I will not stand for hate; I will not stand for bullying.”

What draws his ire is not Cathy’s right to his own beliefs, but Chick-fil-A’s support for groups that Smith says “harass the LGBT community.” 

At home in Chicago, Smith has been fighting food with food, asking gay-rights supporters in a Sun-Times op-ed to host “Kind Chicken” parties to “raise money to help erase the hate in the world.” 

He’s quick to emphasize that he doesn’t perceive this as a partisan issue, pointing out that he and his partner of 13 years, Jesus Salgueiro, have worked with everyone from the Obamas to the Barbara Bush Foundation.

“All those great people, we’ve gone to them as a couple, and we’ve always been treated beautifully,” he notes, adding “there are people on the Republican side who care and who feel the same way and who want to see marriage equality.”

He also insists that he doesn’t want to hurt Chick-fil-A’s business. He would just like to see an end to the divisiveness.

“As a Southern man, I was raised to use food as a way to bring people together, not tear people apart, and that’s what it’s doing,” he says. “Just like you were taught as a kid, don’t say hateful things that hurt people.”

Art and Soul, located in The Liaison Capitol Hill at 415 New Jersey Ave. NW, will be hosting a “Top Chef Masters” viewing party and happy hour every Wednesday from 9-11 p.m. while the show airs.