As to Jeff Smith, I have never much liked his stuff, but I also don't really see what his alleged morals have to do with it. A friend of mine used to work for Daniel Boulud, says he's the most impressive raving s**t she's ever encountered, but nevertheless he's a pretty darn good chef. I know a brilliant kaiseki chef in Kyoto whose behavior toward his cooks makes Gordon Ramsay -- the way he's portrayed on TV, I mean, the exaggerated Gordon -- this guy makes Ramsay look like a pussycat. I don't approve of his behavior, but that doesn't make his cooking lesser.
Anyway, this has drifted off-topic. Back to the topic...
I think that at your stage in cooking, it's essential not to get caught in what I think of as the "recipe trap." The extreme here would be America's Test Kitchen and their works. The idea is that if you have a perfect, super-tested recipe, you get perfect results every time. Translation: a recipe does the work, not you, so you don't need to know anything. This is an exceptionally bad way to learn how to cook, though you might get some decent recipes out of it.
If you want to learn to cook, you have to work with books and shows and whatnot that focus on what happens between the action plan (recipe) and eating the food. Pepin is the greatest of these visually and in person; he is less good on paper. Julia Child was the best on paper, if (like me) you're the sort of person who likes to read a lot of text and think about it. (I think her failing, if she had one, was that she wrote cookbooks like Mastering the Art that could be used to learn how to cook -- you read all the text, learn it, then execute the dish using the writeup as a sort of shorthand -- but that could also simply provide rather verbose recipes. My mother, for example, has used that cookbook probably more than any other in her life, and she likes to cook, but she frankly doesn't know what she's doing or why, because she insists on following the recipes.) In his very early shows, Emeril was quite good, but soon he became just an entertainer with food. Alfred Portale is fabulous on paper, but he's aiming at people who already know their way around pretty well. Joy of Cooking and the like should be treated primarily as reference works: if you basically know what you're doing but aren't sure about a particular recipe or ingredient, you look it up.
Some people these days, including many of my students, think of themselves as "goal-oriented." They like to have a concrete goal to strive toward. If you're like this, go get Le Repertoire de la Cuisine, by Louis Saulnier; there's a translation available, and it's inexpensive. Skim the book a little. See how all you've got is shorthand descriptions, no actual explanations of almost anything? Okay, your goal is to be able to look at these little bits and say, "I see, so that means I have to do X, Y, and Z, and I should time it more or less like A, B, C, and probably it's going to look like G, H, I and should be plated accordingly." That's a LONG way off -- that's a seasoned cook with a good memory and a powerful technical range -- but that's a great way to set yourself a goal.