Whitney Miller, who won the first season of the MasterChef competition on Fox at age 22, is coming to Memphis on Tuesday for a cooking demonstration at L'ecole Culinaire's student-run restaurant and a book signing for her new cookbook at Booksellers at Laurelwood. The two events are part of a collaboration between the cooking school in Cordova and the book store in East Memphis, which features a number of cookbook authors throughout the year.
Miller, a Mississippi native who likes to put a new spin on Southern classics, will demonstrate her "Not Your Grandma's Lemon Meringue Pie" during lunch at the Presentation Room before heading to Booksellers to sign her book, called Modern Hospitality: Simple Recipes With Southern Charm. The book signing starts at 6 p.m.
The fixed price lunch at noon is $15 and features a menu of Miller's recipes: Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Brussels Sprouts, White Pizza with Fried Sage, Inside Out Chicken Pot Pie, and of course, the meringue pie. Tickets can be purchased at the restaurant or reserved by calling 901-654-0015, but don't wait too long as the Presentation Room only seats 52 people.
In addition to her pie-making demo, Miller will talk about her win last summer on MasterChef, a competition between amateur cooks who must impress a trio of judges, including Chef Gordon Ramsay from Hell's Kitchen. (Ramsay, by the way, wrote her cookbook's introduction.) Before traveling to Memphis, Miller shared some thoughts with me by answering a few questions by email. Here's what she had to say:
Memphis Stew: Cooking on MasterChef must have been incredibly nerve wracking. What was your most panicked moment?Miller: I was plating my pan-fried buttermilk chicken and I dropped it on the floor with 10 minutes to go in the finale.Memphis Stew: Following up on that, what dish were you most proud of?Miller: I was most proud of my chocolate souffle because I had never made one before and Chef Ramsay explained how difficult it was to master a perfect one.Memphis Stew: You credit one of your inspirations in the kitchen to a family tradition of cooking. Did only the women in your family cook, or did the men participate too?Miller: For the most part, it was the women in the kitchen cooking, and the men outside grilling. However, my dad and my grandpa are both known for breakfast specialties.Memphis Stew: What were your favorite dishes growing up? Are any of those in your cookbook?Miller: Dishes that my mom made when I was growing up and that were passed down from grandparents include cast-iron skillet cornbread and dressing.
Memphis Stew: Your new cookbook is described as southern classics with a modern twist. Can you explain more completely the modern twist part?Miller: I have taken Southern classics and up-scaled them. For example, "Not Your Grandma's Lemon Meringue" is a modern preparation and presentation of a lemon meringue pie. The meringue is prepared as a baked meringue shell which holds a lemon panna cotta. It is topped with a thin tuile cookie representing the crust. Also, I like preparing common vegetables in different ways, such as roasting Brussel sprouts and pureeing turnip greens to make pesto and cauliflower to make my own version of mac-n-cheese.Memphis Stew: I can't imagine the time it must take to develop and test all the recipes for a cookbook. Can you give me an idea of the work involved?Miller: The hardest, most time-consuming part was probably measuring ingredients. I am used to seasoning to my taste with a pinch of this or that. Suddenly I had to remake all of my recipes and measure everything. It took months and lots of late nights.Memphis Stew: And finally, can you pass along any advice for how families can stay inspired about cooking and eating together?Miller: My family and I have the most fun when we are in the kitchen together. Bringing creativity to dishes can make cooking a fun experience whether through the use of new ingredients or cooking methods. We enjoy preparing meals based on themes like Italian but with a Southern twist. My garden vegetable pizza and Southern affogato (butter pecan ice cream topped with coffee) is an example of a meal from my cookbook.