Calvin Alexander, also known as Chef C, has died due to complications from COVID-19 at the age of 50. He passed away on October 28, 2021 after battling the disease for three weeks, according to his niece and business partner Dominique Acosta. Alexander began his culinary career by cooking the Southern and Cajun flavors he learned from his parents, who grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana. Alexander opened Smhokin’ Pot as a Cajun-inspired catering and food truck operation in 2015, debuting a restaurant in Carson in April 2021.
Alexander was a respiratory therapist for 13 years, preparing and serving his food to coworkers at Long Beach Memorial Hospital. Beginning in 2014, Alexander and Acosta began working together to sell food from Smhokin’ Pot at local South Bay events like jazz festivals and farmers markets. Alexander left his job at Long Beach Memorial to pursue catering and operating Smhokin’ Pot full time, launching a food truck so that he could better reach potential customers wherever they were.
He was known for his gumbo, which he used to serve to his hospital colleagues to rave reviews. A trip to Hawai’i inspired his garlic shrimp, which stars his signature garlic flavoring that stars in everything from chicken wings to lobster. Alexander wove in other of his own innovations and ingredients into classic Southern and Cajun dishes like gumbolaya with smothered fries, lobster mac and cheese, whiskey sauce chicken wings, and even a meatless jambalaya. Acosta says Alexander’s method for recipe development was “you do a little dibble-dabble, a little sprinkle, and that’s it. That’s the one.” His mantra was that he wanted to make food so good that it “makes you wanna slap yo momma...but don’t slap yo momma.”
Alexander operated the truck for more than four years, making it one of the South Bay’s most popular mobile food businesses before opening a permanent restaurant in Carson just across from Dignity Health Sports Park and Cal State Dominguez Hills back in April 2021. Smhokin’ Pot was part of a wave of Southern restaurants and cooking that had emerged in the South Bay and Long Beach area in recent years. Acosta says that while the pandemic made running a food truck more difficult (they continue to use it for events), one silver lining was that government grants intended to stimulate the economy enabled Alexander and Acosta to pursue opening a physical location.
Acosta says Alexander was like a father figure to her. Growing up, he lived in the same home and would help with things like school pick ups and even taught her how to drive. In remember her uncle, Acosta says Alexander was always a popular person. His ability to balance a beverage in hand while mimicking Michael Jackson moves was a particular talent of his. “Everybody loved him. He wasn’t a man of many words, he’s not gonna talk in a lot of detail, but he’s just so cool and he’s the life of the party. If he comes into a room, he’s so handsome, you’re gonna notice when he walks in. You just say, ‘man he’s a cool dude’ and once you start talking to him you see he draws an energy that nobody can deny,” she says.
Prior to contracting COVID-19, Alexander had celebrated his birthday and taken a trip out of town to spend time with close friends. He even went to a Las Vegas Raiders game by himself. “He lived and did exactly what he wanted to do before he had to go,” says Acosta.
For now, Acosta and the team at Smhokin’ Pot plan to continue operating the restaurant. “We’re in a position to be able to keep going,” she says. “[The team] wants to continue to carry his legacy. They love the food themselves. We created an atmosphere for a healthy work environment, we treat our employees with dignity and respect. It’s made them cherish us and the business. I’m gonna make sure the Smhokin’ Pot is forever,” says Acosta.
The family has established a GoFundMe to support funeral and memorial expenses for Alexander. Alexander is survived by his daughter Cailey.