I’ve met and spoken with a lot of celebrity chefs, but none quite like Whitney Miller. In 2010, she beat out 13 others to win the very first Masterchef
competition. Even more remarkable is that she was only 22 at the time.
Since becoming Masterchef
Whitney Miller has had a whirlwind career. She has done cooking demonstrations around the country with other celebrity chefs such as Guy Fieri and Paula Deen. She’s also frequently seen as a celebrity judge and food writer. And, she is the author of Modern Hospitality: Simple Recipes with Southern Charm
Mississippi remains the home base for Miller. She likes to stay close to her family, which includes her cooking mentor, her 97 year old great grandmother, who is still frequently behind the stove. Whitney Miller’s style is a bit different, though, as she tries to put a modern twist on great grandma’s cooking by producing Southern-inspired recipes that are simple and lower in fat than the standard.
I spoke to Whitney Miller just after she returned from the Sundance Film Festival, where she participated in the Morningstar Farms ChefDance
event. She had a lot to say about her whirlwind life she’s led since winning Master Chef
Marcia Frost : How did it feel to win the first Masterchef?
It was very exciting because I was actually still in college at the time.
MF: What made you enter?
I was in my senior year and I got into nutrition because I was looking for something that got into cooking. I actually found the information for Masterchef on my own and my family encouraged me to do it, but I don’t think they knew what would come of it, or if I even would get on the show.
MF: Most people think of Southern cooking as laden with fat. Do you think you’ve changed some opinions?
I hope I have. That is my mission… to introduce people to Southern cooking beyond fried chicken and mashed potatoes and everything laden in butter. I use ingredients that are Southern and they are common to people and incorporate them into dishes that are comforting. I also use a lot of olive oil, and pan fry vs. deep fry.
MF: I love your simple recipe for the oatmeal cookies (below).
Oh, yeah! I went on this trip to California and tried these cookies and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have to recreate them!’ All I had was oatmeal packets and it still worked. I have not been able to replicate it using oatmeal.
I live in a small town. It’s so small that there’s one red light and about 4,000 people. If I can’t be able to get ingredients myself, I think about other people who might be in my same situation. So, I try to make all ingredients easily accessible to people.
MF: What do you like to eat at home?
I love seafood. I love vegetables. I think that one of the things that I want to show people who don’t eat very many vegetables is how to cook them with a lot of flavor. I like being creative with vegetables. I do a lot of experimentation at home with my family on vegetable recipes.
MF: You are also involved in a lot of charities.
One charity that is really special to me is the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation because my dad was diagnosed just after I won Masterchef with this autoimmune disease. It really changed my perspective on people that are dealing with illness and how I can help through cooking. My dad has to be on a special diet because of the effects of his medication. Then it was like all these people were in front of me with diabetes and heart disease. My grandfather just died last year from heart disease. I’ve been given this gift and I’d like to try to serve others with it.
MF: Was this your first participation at the Sundance Film Festival?
Yes, it was. It was my first Utah experience and it was the most snow I’ve ever seen! I did not get to see any films, but I did get to see some celebrities, like Kenny Loggins at my Morningstar Farms ChefDance dinner. I had the experience of walking around and getting pictures taken.
MF: What’s next on your schedule?
A few events in February… I’ll travel to Los Angeles to do a cooking demonstration and book signing in Costa Mesa at a cooking school/store called Surfas that just recently opened. Then I’m working with United Food Bank & Services of Plant City, Florida, to do an event there. Merchant Food Service also has their big Southern Conference in February so I’ll be there.
MF: What is your favorite place to travel for great food?
Los Angeles and New York because of all the different varieties of cuisine that I get to try. In New York, I love to go to Little India and Chinatown. It’s food I can’t get where I live so I like to have the different opportunities
MF: What’s your favorite cocktail?
I actually don’t drink alcohol so I like Mocktails. One of my favorite combinations is grapefruit, lime and simple syrup with tonic water.
Flourless Oatmeal Cookies
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3 packets maple & brown sugar oatmeal
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
In a glass mixing bowl, melt the butter and set aside to cool slightly. In another mixing bowl, combine oatmeal, both sugars, and salt. Stir the mixture together.
Whisk together the cooled melted butter, vanilla, and egg. Using a large or wooden spoon, stir the oatmeal mixture into the butter mixture.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
Using a small ice cream scooper or small spoon, drop the chilled dough onto the paper or mat. Separate the dough balls a few inches from each other to give the dough room to spread. Flatten the dough balls slightly.
Bake for 13-17 minutes or until the edges brown nicely and the center of the cookies are medium brown. (The cookies will continue to cook on the baking sheet). Allow the cookies to cool for about 5 minutes. Using an offset spatula, gently remove the cookies by working the spatula around the edges of the cookie.
Decorate with sliced almonds and drizzling of melted bittersweet or dark chocolate, if desired.
Look for additional recipes on Whitney Miller’s website.