Jeff Smith, a white-bearded minister who became public television’s popular “Frugal Gourmet” before a sex scandal ruined his career, died Wedesday in Seattle. He was 65.
In the 1960s, Smith, a United Methodist minister, began teaching a course at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma 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” became the nation’s most-watched cooking show, and a series of accompanying cookbooks broke sales records for the category.
But in 1997, seven men filed a lawsuit alleging 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 restaurant he operated in Tacoma in the 1970s. The seventh alleged Smith abused him after picking him up as a hitchhiker in 1992.
Smith was soon off the air.
Smith denied the allegations and was never charged with a crime. He and his insurance companies paid an undisclosed sum to settle the lawsuit.
Smith is survived by his wife, Patricia, and two sons.