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Sully Sullivan
Sully Sullivan

‘Southern Food Is the Fabric of American Food’

With recipes ranging from seafood to sweets, Food Network star Kardea Brown inspires home cooks to experiment, have fun and explore history. Enter for a chance to win her new cookbook.

Kardea Brown didn’t always plan on cooking for a living. For her, growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, food was always an important part of family gatherings and Brown found cooking fun, but she expected to become a social worker or teacher. However, one day her boyfriend at the time (they’re still friends) replied to a casting call for cooks on her behalf (and without her knowing).

Everything changed in 2014 when she got the opportunity to be featured in a cooking show. Today, she’s the host of Delicious Miss Brown on the Food Network, a show that celebrates her Gullah Geechee heritage. This distinct group resides primarily in the coastal regions of Georgia and South Carolina and retained much of its West African culture.

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Brown’s first cookbook, The Way Home: A Celebration of Sea Islands Food and Family, mixes that rich history with a pinch of humor and heartfelt observations about the special people we welcome around our tables. She puts a creative twist on well-loved classics like hoppin’ John, collard greens, potato salad and fried chicken, and introduces us to family recipes like her mom’s stuffed meatloaf and regional delicacies such as she-crab soup.

This giveaway has ended. Keep an eye out for future sweepstakes.

Just in time for Southern Food Heritage Day on October 11, we spoke with Kardea Brown about food and family. She also shared her advice for people who think they can’t cook or don’t enjoy it.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

What role did food play in your family growing up?

We have a really huge family. My grandmother is one of 14 children. I have a ton of cousins. So in order for us to get together, the majority of the time it was a potluck thing. Someone made this, someone made that. Food was always and still is the center of our family.

What do you love most about cooking?

I love the creative aspect of cooking. I can put everything aside and just kind of lose myself or immerse myself within the food. I think that cooking is a really great way to show creativity and art.

My grandmother is one of 14 children. I have a ton of cousins. So in order for us to get together, the majority of the time it was a potluck thing. Someone made this, someone made that. Food was always and still is the center of our family.

What are some of your favorite foods?

I am a true foodie. I like almost anything. But I am a seafood lover, being from the low country. We have some of the freshest, sweetest seafood you’ll ever have in your life. Whatever comes from the ocean, I will eat it.

When you’ve had a tough day, are there any foods that lift your spirits?

Oh, that’s easy: chocolate. I literally just ate a piece of milk chocolate. I love ice cream as well.

What was the inspiration for your cookbook?

That’s a no-brainer. It’s my grandmother and my mother — the women in my life that helped shape me into the woman I am today. This book is dedicated to them. It’s a collection of the foods I grew up eating.

What type of person is your cookbook for?

I always feel that I have a closer connection to home cooks because I am basically a home cook that cooks for a living. So this is definitely for people who love down-home cooking — people who just want comfort food without all the frills. Just simple cooking.

When it’s fun and you’re experimenting, it makes cooking a lot easier. So I say always make it fun and not a task. Cooking really is a creative process, so if you like creating, you’ll love cooking.

What is something you want everyone to know about Southern food?

Southern food is the fabric of American food. Also, Southern food is not a monolith. It’s not just fried chicken and mac ’n’ cheese, which are great. You have people like me who are of Gullah Geechee descent. Our food is Southern, but it’s very influenced by West African cuisine. So it’s very seasonal. It’s very fresh. Southern food has different facets, and I want people to really see that, because sometimes Southern food gets a bad rap.

Can you say a bit more about Gullah Geechee culture?

West African enslaved people came over here with this vast knowledge. Had it not been for the Gullah Geechee people basically creating American society on our backs, a lot of the things that we value and cherish now wouldn’t exist. I’m very proud to be of Gullah Geechee descent.

What advice would you give someone who isn’t comfortable or confident in the kitchen?

Just start. You may burn a thing or two. I’m still doing that well into my career. I still have dishes where I’m like, “Oh, that’s terrible!” Keep trying and keep cooking. Just enjoy it. Make it an activity with family. When it’s fun and you’re experimenting, it makes cooking a lot easier. So I say always make it fun and not a task. Cooking really is a creative process, so if you like creating, you’ll love cooking.


This giveaway has ended. Keep an eye out for future sweepstakes.

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