By Megan Broome
CLAYTON— Feeding people is something that Inger Smith has done for over 30 years, and as the new teaching kitchen manager for the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia she hopes to “be the good” as a hub of good will for the people in Rabun County and the mountain region.
Smith began her role as teaching kitchen manager on January 15, 2020.
“I want the teaching kitchen to be a place of relationship building for all of us in the community,” Smith said.
The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia was founded in 1992, with the Rabun County location established in 2016.
It houses a teaching kitchen, commercial kitchen and a frozen food processing line.
“Our goal is to alleviate hunger,” Smith said about the purpose of the Food Bank.
Smith brings a plethora of experience to the teaching kitchen, having begun her career in the catering business in Houston, Tx. and later New York City.
After leaving New York, Smith traveled back to Houston and began assisting at Le Panier Cooking School in the early 1990s with world-renowned chefs who would come there to teach.
“That was integral to my career really,” Smith said
Smith moved to Rabun County in 1998 and opened Inger’s Fine Foods restaurant on Lake Rabun in 2000, which moved to Clayton in 2001.
After closing the restaurant in 2008, Smith began a career traveling as a chef for celebrities and famous athletes.
She worked with Jennifer Aniston as her private chef for three months, while she was filming a movie while also continuing to do catering for private clients.
In 2011 Smith had an opportunity to cook at the Masters Tournament, one of the four major championships in professional golf, and credits Joel Johnson, owner of The Rusty Bike Café in Clayton, for making it possible.
“If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have had the career I have,” Smith said about Johnson. “I’m just so appreciative to him.”
It was here where Smith met professional golfer Dustin Johnson and began a 7-year career traveling with him to tournaments and cooking for him, his team and family.
While traveling, Smith met Thomas Dimitroff, the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, and began cooking for his family as well.
She met some Atlanta Falcons football players and cooked privately for Matt Ryan and his family, as well as others.
“I was able to work with several of the Falcons and help them with their nutrition needs,” Smith said. She worked with the team nutritionist and trainers to ensure she was cooking the appropriate foods for their needs.
During her career, Smith also catered an event for The Rolling Stones.
Smith found her way back to Tallulah Falls in May 2019 and taught classes at the Food Bank in November and December, before becoming teaching kitchen manager.
“I feel like this position is sort of the culmination of my whole career in a lot of ways,” Smith said.
One way is because the teaching kitchen gives the opportunity to teach, cook and have special events.
“I was just so impressed and inspired,” Smith said about learning about all of the great things the Food Bank does for the community.
Smith said that her goal is to build on the current foundation of the teaching kitchen.
“I really want to expand on what’s already been done and grow,” Smith said. “I just feel very fortunate to even be part of it.”
Part of that is encouraging community members to become involved with the teaching kitchen, especially families.
Smith said that the teaching kitchen aims to educate young people and families about proper nutrition and hopes to see people from the community participate in some of the classes offered.
She said she plans for the teaching kitchen to do more community outreach as well.
Another goal for the teaching kitchen, Smith explains, is to have local cuisines and to bring awareness to chefs, instructors, people in the food industry and those who own businesses in Rabun County.
She said that she also wants to invite chefs from outside the area to come and teach classes as well.
“I feel like we all have something to teach,” Smith said. “For me, being in a teaching environment is great because it’s also a learning opportunity.”
Smith said that she still learns every day and that sometimes her students become the teachers.
The Food Bank raises money for scholarships for local youth, and Smith said she wants to “use the teaching kitchen as a vehicle to raise funds for feeding people.”
“The core of what we are doing here is feeding people,” Smith said about the Food Bank’s initiatives.
Smith said that her career has been a “gift” and that she is very grateful for every opportunity she’s had.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Smith said. She expressed gratitude to the teaching assistants she works with.
“I love working with the teaching assistants here,” Smith said. “They are incredible.”
Smith said that other future goals are to do a weekly spotlight on the people who work and volunteer at the Food Bank and focus on what they are doing to help the community.
She also wants to expand the cookbook collection that’s at the teaching kitchen, and recently held a meet and greet and cookbook drive where people in the community came out to meet the teaching assistants and local chefs and brought cookbooks to share for the project.
“The key is that we are all working for the best cause of alleviating hunger,” Smith said about the ultimate purpose of the Food Bank and teaching kitchen. “That’s the goal.”
Smith said that she has a “passion for food and for people” and looks forward to where her career takes her as teaching kitchen manager.
The teaching kitchen has many upcoming events, with the first being “Sunday Supper Club with Chef Vince Scafiti” on March 8.