Barbara (B.) Smith, 59, is the host of B. Smith with Style, a nationally syndicated television program, and she has a collection of home goods available at Bed Bath & Beyond, a furniture line at home stores nationwide, and a jewelry line with Zalemark. From the start Smith has involved her extended family in the operations of her three namesake restaurants, in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Sag Harbor, New York. While growing up, Dana Gasby, 22, Smith's stepdaughter, was a regular in the restaurants' kitchens as well as at the recipe-testing table. Although Gasby, who graduated from college last spring, is currently working for a sports-marketing firm, she prides herself on her entertaining skills, just like her stepmom.
"I met Dana when she was 4. As far as I'm concerned, she's my daughter. I remember teaching her how to set the table. I bought flatware with crayon-colored handles and said, 'This is yours, and this is how you set the table.' I also gave her a nonstick skillet so she could make eggs. You can't hurt an egg with a nonstick pan.
"Dana always liked to help out. Early on I was the chopper and she was the stirrer, but as she got older she could really help. She always liked to make holiday meals, too. We had a house near the beach, where we spent most of our holidays. For Christmas we used to make a dish of homemade lobster ravioli. Since we were near the water, lobster seemed like the perfect ingredient.
"Because Dana went back and forth between her mom's house and our place, cooking together wasn't an every-night thing. But Monday night was family night at our house. Whether she was with us or her mom for the weekend, on Mondays she'd know, okay, this is our night.
"Later, when she was in college, we'd have Thanksgiving at our place in New York City. Afterward I'd send her off with leftovers. She said that on the train back to Washington, D.C., where she was in school, the other passengers would enjoy smelling the aromas.
"I learned to cook from my mother and grandmother. I loved it when my mother had a meeting of one of her clubs and I could set the table and help out, getting vegetables from the garden and chopping. In the small town where we lived, there was just one store. It was the meat market as well as the grocery store, and we had an account there. When I was in junior high, I'd stop at the store on the nights when I was cooking dinner and buy what I wanted. One of my favorites was smothered liver and onions with rice. After many nights of eating it, my mother said, 'I know you like this dish, but can you please make something else?'
"My mom passed away in 1997, but before she died Dana got the chance to cook with her. She lived in Memphis and was a great cook -- a really great cook. My mother came up to the New York City restaurant twice and the first thing she said to me was, 'You have some of my dishes on the menu!'"
-- As told to Jennifer Castoro