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Saturday, January 25, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Future Of TV Chef's Program Is Unknown -- `Frugal Gourmet' Accused In Suit Of Sexual Abuse

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

The long-term future of Jeff Smith's popular "Frugal Gourmet" television cooking show is unknown following allegations the Seattle-based TV chef sexually abused teenaged boys in the 1970s.

A lawsuit, filed Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court, alleges Smith "pursued a pattern and practice of grooming high-school-age male employees for sexual intercourse" when he ran a Tacoma food-service business.

The suit was filed by a 36-year-old man who claims that as a teenager he was molested several times by Smith and raped in a back room of the business.

No criminal charges have ever been brought against Smith in relation to such allegations.

Smith denies the allegations in court papers. He could not be reached yesterday by phone.

Nat Katzman, whose company, A La Carte Communications, produces the "Frugal Gourmet," said yesterday, "I'm as shocked and surprised by this news as anyone else. I'm not sure Jeff has done anything wrong, and I hope and expect that his name will be cleared."

The San Francisco-based Katzman said talks have been under way with Smith's representatives to tape a new "Frugal Gourmet" series, perhaps in late summer or fall of this year, probably to air in 1998.

Repeats of the show's last series are airing nationally and locally on PBS. The show airs in this area on KCTS, Channel 9, on Saturdays.

Katzman said there are no plans at this point to halt talks about a new series.

Of Smith, he said: "He's extremely dynamic, charismatic, larger than life. From the perspective of a TV producer, he's wonderful to work with because when the camera goes on, he just lights up."

Pat Millinson of KCTS said the station has no immediate plans to drop the program but added that officials are discussing the Smith issue and monitoring viewer reactions.

A spokesman for PBS headquarters in Washington, D.C., said the network has no plans at this point to stop offering the program to local stations.

Smith, an ordained minister, often emphasizes the spiritual aspects of cooking and eating in his talks, shows and numerous cookbooks.

Tall, gray-bearded and physically imposing, he is expansive in manner, given to hugs and humor but also, at times, to crankiness. He's often seen striding through the Pike Place Market, where he lives.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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