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You’ve seen her on Food Network Star, outlasting 11 rival competitors to become the Season 9 winner, and starting this Sunday at 10:30am/9:30c, she’ll star on her first-ever series, Southern at Heart. But Damaris Phillips remains relatively new to the Food Network family and perhaps a bit unknown to her fans. This Kentucky-born culinary school instructor is passionate about her large family, matchmaking in the kitchen and, of course, all things southern. But there’s more to know about Damaris, like her most-detested ingredient, favorite kitchen memory, go-to culinary tool and last supper must-have. FN Dish recently caught up with her in her hometown of Louisville, Ky., and found out the answers to these questions and others. Read on below to hear from Damaris, then browse photos to see her out on the town in Louisville.
What’s your Achilles’-heel ingredient, one that you hate to work with or encounter in someone else’s dish?
Damaris Phillips: Button mushrooms.
What was your most memorable meal? What, where, who — details, please!
DP: I don’t have a most memorable, like one memorable meal, but we had brunch every single Sunday growing up, so when I think about eating with my family, I think about having the same food every Sunday.
What’s the first recipe you invented or felt that you perfected?
DP: Chocolate chip cherry cookies with oatmeal. They are pretty good.
What does a normal dinner at home look like for you?
DP: My gentleman’s a vegetarian, so some vegetarian protein. We eat a lot of tofu. We eat a lot of seitan. And then vegetables. I do a lot of cast-iron veggies, maybe some rice. I mean, pretty normal fare.
What’s your favorite memory in the kitchen?
DP: I loved the minute I realized I was good at cooking. Like I had a moment — I made a roasted chicken and I remember watching people’s faces as they ate it, and I thought at that time, oh, I am good at this. I feel the same way when I do a wedding cake. I’m always like, oh my god, I’m going to ruin this person’s day, and then I get done with it and think, oh lord, how did that happen?
Tell us the story about the chicken. When was it, and for whom were you cooking?
DP: Probably like seven, eight years ago. I was cooking at home for friends. It was before I went to culinary school. I had already taught myself to bake, but savory food — I didn’t feel 100% confident with it. It was just a roasted chicken — literally just roasted chicken. I think it had lemon and rosemary.
What’s your guilty-pleasure food?
DP: Tater tots. Eat ‘em. Make them into tatertachos. Tatertachos are the exact same as nachos except instead of tortilla chips you use tater tots, which I think really elevates it — really, really classes it up a lot.
Who’s your favorite person to cook for?
DP: I love cooking for my gentleman. I like to cook for my grandpa. I have a girlfriend named Leslie — she’s actually my roommate — and I like to cook for her too, because she’s so pumped. Always.
Is there one dish that you always order out and never make at home?
DP: Any Ethiopian food. I will not even try to make it at home. I tried one time and it was so much less good. It’s just not in my blood.
What kitchen tool can’t you live without?
DP: My hands.
What’s the most surprising thing we’d find in your refrigerator?
DP: Probably some hazelnut creamer. That is my roommate’s, I have to say, but I will use it if I’m out of half-and-half.
What music do you like to listen to in the kitchen — what’s on your playlist these days?
DP: I always love to stream music. I always put it, like, on the Otis Redding station. But then the other one is I love country music. So country music, cause I can sing along. But if I’m trying to create a low, smooth like kind of calm, then I go for the Otis Redding kind of feel.
If you weren’t in food, what career would you have liked to have tried?
DP: I would have either picked — well, I have a list of the things I thought I was going to be. So I started out and I was going to be a writer, and that turned into journalist. And then that turned into a career in children’s literature, which turned into early childhood education, which turned into psychology, which turned into premed, which turned into nursing school, which turned into communication, which turned into marketing and advertising. I did a brief stint with set design and stage design. And I tried playwriting too. And then cooking. The whole time I was always cooking in restaurants. I always worked in restaurants, and I always cooked, but I was going to school so I could make something to be proud of. And then finally I realized, like, oh, you should probably just go to school for food.
What’s your favorite “food city” to visit?
DP: I love Seattle. I lived out in Seattle for a while, and the food there is so phenomenal. It’s so fresh and gorgeous, and just beautiful and simple. I really love that place.
What’s your favorite late-night snack?
DP: Probably spaghetti. I love peanut butter crackers. I also make a lot of smoothies. Banana-peanut butter smoothies are my favorite.
What’s one must-have at your last supper?
DP: Spaghetti. When I say spaghetti, what that means to me is any sort of noodle with red sauce on it.
Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup or mustard? Mustard
Grits or polenta? Grits
Cake or pie? Cake
Brownies or blondies? Brownies
Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Burger or hot dog? Burger
Cream cheese or butter? Cream cheese
Soda or water? Water
Fries or onion rings? Tater tots
Tune in to Southern at Heart every Sunday at 10:30am/9:30c.