Imperfect Women interviews Whitney Miller, winner of the first season of Master Chef.
With a new cookbook full of great recipes for everything from Breakfast Grit Cakes to Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin, you can’t just call Whitney Miller the “Dessert Princess” anymore. But her life these days is certainly something right out of a fairy tale. Eighteen months ago Whitney was living a typical busy student’s life, working hard to complete her degree in Nutrition and Biology at the University of Southern Mississippi, when she noticed on a New Orleans website that the T.V. show Master Chef was holding auditions. Feeling a strong desire to have food and cooking not just as hobby but as a career, she looked at the show as an opportunity to get the culinary training she always wanted. “I have always loved to cook and never thought of it as a career but went into nutrition and played sports my first year of college. But as I was coming to the end of my studies and getting close to graduation, I was drawn more and more to food and having cooking as a career. That really pushed me to audition.”
Recently I had the chance to speak with Whitney from her home in Poplarville, Mississippi. She came across as a sincere and down to earth woman who often started the answers to my questions with a little giggle. It was growing up in that home, with her strong faith and tight knit family, that the love of food and all things cooking began. “My family is just so big on food. In our family, cooking was almost like an activity with all of us in the kitchen; on our vacations we would pick those places we wanted to be sure to stop at. So the love of food just started at a really young age, then I wanted to be in the kitchen and learn from my great grandmother and my mom.”
All that cooking certainly came in handy when she appeared on Master Chef. Whitney says it was an experience she will never forget. “I remember there was a lot of tired nights and days, but I really enjoyed the cooking part, and it was challenging. I always enjoy a good challenge. My competitive nature really came out in a lot of the competitions.”Cooking tip: When needing finely minced garlic or onion Whitney often whips out her hand grater instead of a cutting board and knife!
It was Whitney’s strong will and persistence that pulled her out of what could have been a disastrous final few minutes on the show, when she dropped her main dish of pan-fried buttermilk chicken on the floor and needed to start over. “It’s kind of an interesting experience when all the judges are telling you that you can’t cook it in 7 minutes and I am like ‘Well I can.’ ”
With her quiet determination she did it and went on to win the $250,000 and a cookbook publishing deal. With her win in hand, it was back home to Mississippi for Whitney to start work on her first ever cookbook, and again her warm, tight-knit family came into play. “I had my sous-chef, my mom, cooking with me every day, and sometimes we did not get out of our pajamas, because we were constantly either creating a recipe or finishing a recipe and perfecting it.”
The result of all that work is a bright, lovely cookbook that showcases not only family favorite recipes such as Biscuits and Cane Syrup, but new southern type recipes with Whitney’s own special twist, like the Inside-Out Chicken Pot Pies. The book is not only filled with great recipes but also little stories from Whitney’s life that give you the sense of just how much her family means to her.One thing Whitney can’t live without in the kitchen? A good extra virgin olive oil. She uses it on everything from roasted veggies to salad to her White Pizza with Fried Sage.
When I mentioned to Whitney that I had already tried her recipe for Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Brussels Sprouts, her voice instantly lit up! “That’s a big favorite of mine, because I’ve always wanted people to be able to like brussels sprouts, because I enjoy them, and I was ‘Alright , I’m gonna come up with a way!’ ” And find a new way she did. The lowly brussels sprout is taken to a whole new level with a bacon wrap and a creamed cheese filling. I can also give a personal thumbs up to her recipe for “Dillicious Potato Salad” that I served recently at a barbeque. My neighbor exclaimed, “This potato salad rocks, I must have the recipe!”
Whitney told me that she hopes to inspire home cooks to be creative and I think she achieves that with her book. Not only with her recipes but with “Whitney’s Essentials” at the back of the book. There are recipes for items like Miracle Marinade, Blackened Seasoning Rub, and Buttermilk Herb Dressing. These are mixtures I can not only use with the recipes in Whitney’s book, but I can use them to liven up the flavors in my own recipes.
Another great recipe in the book is for Cranberry and Sun-Dried Tomato Ketchup. “I had never made ketchup before,” says Whitney, “until I decided to do it for my cookbook, and it was really easy. When I put it on my meat loaf or hamburger it just made the flavor of the whole dish come to life.”
When I asked Whitney if she could recommend something from her book that I could make for dinner that night, she quickly replied “Yes! Make the Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary-Cranberry Glaze. I have never been too much of a pork fan,” confessed Whitney, “until I tried it prepared right. And oh my goodness, the bacon just adds so much flavor, and you don’t even need a knife. It’s just that tender!” Whitney knows what she is talking about. I took her advice and made it that night. The pork tenderloin was delicious, and my family wondered why were having such a fancy dinner on a regular weeknight. Whitney’s recipe is my favorite kind of recipe: one that makes it seem like you have been slaving away all day but in reality was quick and simple! At our house Whitney is not only the Dessert Princess but the Pork Tenderloin Princess too!
Now that the cookbook is finished (and doing well in sales I should mention), Whitney spends time on the road promoting her book and making public appearances. She recently appeared at a Women’s Health event in Chicago where she gave cooking demos from her book. She was able to interact with women and really focus on the nutritional aspect of cooking, something she really enjoys.
“It’s really neat when people who followed me throughout the whole Master Chef competition, and now see me on my cookbook tour, come up to me and say, “I was rooting for you, and I chose you right from the beginning.” It’s great, and it always makes me feel so good!”
What’s in the future for Whitney? She hopes to continue writing cookbooks and has a great unique idea for a children’s cookbook, which seems very fitting, since her love of cooking started at such an early age. With her faith and family close by her side, it’s easy to see that Whitney’s future will be bright… and tasty!
Imperfect Women is pleased to be able to share the recipe for Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary-Cranberry Glaze from Whitney Miller’s new cookbook, Modern Hospitality.