Valley Stream's Alexcia Smith, who has worked as a private chef for such music stars as Alicia Keys and Bow Wow, pits her talents against the titular star of Food Network's "Beat Bobby Flay" Thursday at 10 p.m.
Writer-comedian Tina Fey was a guest judge for that episode's competition, in which two chefs cook against each other in a first round with the winner taking on chef-restaurateur Flay in round two. "She's so cool, really awesome, down to earth," says Smith, 34, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and raised in Hempstead. "She was in my corner from the minute the show started. When she was critiquing my dish, even though I didn't think it was my best, she said, 'No, it's better than you think.' It gave me that extra sense of confidence I didn't have."
Smith, who had learned cooking from her father while growing up, found her culinary niche during high school in Hempstead. After completing her required courses by junior year, she found herself done with her remaining classes by 9:30 a.m. "My guidance counselor said, 'We can't have you walking around the hallways,' so he introduced me to the idea of culinary programs, since my chosen electives were always home-ec classes."
While retaining her plans to go to medical school and become a plastic surgeon, she began studying culinary arts at BOCES, New York State's vocation-oriented Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Despite the hopes of her parents, mom Delores and dad Lloyd, med school went by the wayside.
"It was so amazing," she says of discovering her niche. "My instructor said, 'You really have a knack for this.' " He helped find her a job at Garden City's since-closed Viking Culinary Arts Center, a showroom for the kitchen-appliance maker. In its in-store kitchen, "I was able to work with a variety of different chefs who did demonstrations, like Tom Colicchio and Dorie Greenspan." She went on to earn a 2006 Bachelor's degree from The Culinary Institute of America.
Her parents eventually came around, and Smith — who has a twin sister and a younger brother — went on to work for Restaurant Associates, managing food service for The New York Times and later Condé Nast. She left in 2013 to become a private chef — presently for a Manhattan-based celebrity she cannot name — and pursue such other ventures as her organic-granola brand in.grain.ed, sold through Hamptons farm stands.
A friend from the Hamptons, where Smith spends part of her year, recommended her for the show. "My neighbor Ellen, a sweet-as-pie older woman," Smith says. "One night my family came to the Hamptons and I made shrimp pasta, nothing fancy. And I invited Ellen over to meet my family and eat with us."
Ellen, it turned out, was a close friend of a "Beat Bobby Flay" producer, who called Smith to be on the show.
"I thought it was a prank," Smith says. "I didn't call him back, so he sends me a text message. That's when I thought, 'Maybe this is real!' "