As a competitor on Food Network Star this past summer, Damaris Phillips didn’t stray from her Southern point of view in the kitchen. She used her lifelong experience of living in Kentucky and her passion for traditional Southern ingredients to establish herself as the ultimate authority on the cuisine, and when she told Bob and Susie in her pitch that “Southern food is the food of love,” they were quick to believe her. She’s maintained her tendency for Southern-style cooking on her first-ever series, Southern at Heart, airing Sundays at 10:30am/9:30c, where she helps love-struck guys turn out deliciously comforting Southern dishes with the classic ingredients of the region. FN Dish caught up with Damaris in her hometown of Louisville to find out more about her penchant for Southern cuisine, like her ultimate down-home meal. Read on below to hear from Damaris and find out her go-to Southern goods, the secret to making the best-ever grits and more.
What’s your favorite Southern meal, the one down-home dish you’re always craving?
Damaris Phillips: Cornbread and milk. It’s my favorite. I also love beans and cornbread. First you have pinto beans or butter beans and cornbread for dinner, and then the next morning, inevitably, there’s leftover cornbread. You take that cornbread into a glass, cold milk over the top and you just eat it — [with] maybe some honey. I like to put a little honey on there. It’s like cornflakes, kind of. Not really, but kind of.
What are your tips for lightening and modernizing the traditionally rich, decadent foods of the South?
DP: I think the thing that people don’t realize about Southern food so much is that typically meat and all that heavy stuff was used as flavoring. And really the main stars of the meal were typically, when we grew up, were vegetables. So we had lots of vegetables, lots of beans, lots of legumes. Really we didn’t have a ton of money for big, big hunks of meat, and traditionally in the South, that’s not what you got at all. You had a lot of vegetables and a little bit of meat. And so I think that people don’t realize that about the South. But also, all foods are heavy if you add a lot of butter, a lot of cream and a lot of cheese. So just [eat] good-old roasted veggies. I think making everything at home — as long as you’re cooking at home, you are making it better than any restaurant will do. Cooking at home is always going to be more healthful than restaurants, for sure. So if you’re worried about Southern food being too decadent, just make it at home. And that’s where I come in.
What are a few of your most-used Southern ingredients?
DP: I use a lot of grits. I use a ton of sorghum. I use a lot of bourbon. You’re going to see lots and lots of whole grains. I try and use all products from the South, so I try and use local flours and things like that. I use a ton of vegetables, so the Southern ingredients [I use] the most are just the harvest, the vegetables that you see.
What’s the secret to making perfect grits?
DP: Everybody has a different take on grits. My take is: Figure out how you like them, and cook them that way. My trick is just to tend to them. Don’t let them alone, because they’re going to stick, so be patient. Cook them until the doneness you desire, but really just focus. Pay attention to them.
Try your hand at some of Damaris’ top Southern recipes, like Chai Spiced Grits, Chili, Sorghum Caramel Apples, and Chocolate Cupcakes with Burnt Orange Marshmallows, and tune in to Southern at Heart on Sundays at 10:30am/9:30c.