It’s not everyday that culinary legends give cooking classes, but when veteran broadcaster and sports announcer Chip Hoback asked Tennessee’s ‘First Lady’ of Southern Cooking,’ Daisy King, to help raise money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), she happily agreed.
Photographed and Written By: Shannon Hooper
Franklin, TN – It’s Friday night and Middle Tennessee is settling into yet another wet and soggy end to a wet and soggy Spring day. At a quarter to six, the interstates and side roads are still lined with impatient commuters eager to get home for the weekend. But, just south of Nashville, tucked away amidst the manicured lawns and picture-perfect landscapes of one of Franklin’s many luxury subdivisions, cars are beginning to line the street in front of Cameron Plato’s sprawling craftsman style home.
Plato has opened his home, and more importantly, his gourmet kitchen to an intimate group of strangers from across Nashville and Franklin. They’re all gathering for a unique event – the chance to learn about Southern cooking from one of the South’s culinary legends and mingle with one of the state’s best known sportscasters.
Every year the Tennessee Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society hosts a friendly 10-week competition amongst Nashville leaders to elect their annual Man & Woman of the Year and raise vital funds for LLS. This year, LLS invited legendary Tennessee broadcaster and host of 102.5 The Game’s ‘Saturday Sports Mayhem’, Chip Hoback, to participate.
The fight against blood cancer is one that is very personal for Hoback, whose niece was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in 2007, and today, is cancer free, thanks in part, to the advancements made possible by LLS.
“This is something I have to do. I hope you will help,” Hoback says of his fundraising campaign.
Cooking with a Legend
Inside, Daisy King, who is known for her charitable involvement, has been eagerly preparing for the arrival of their guests. As people trickle in to the home, King greats them with the warmth and relaxed charm of welcoming old friends. It’s difficult to tell that folks are arriving for a charity event. It’s the kind of open hospitality that puts even strangers at ease and is handed down from mother to daughter through generations of Southern families.
Like Cher and Elvis, King doesn’t need a last name and few people bother to use it. She is known simply as “Miss Daisy” to the millions of devoted fans who have eagerly bought her books, eaten at her restaurants and tuned into her regular television appearances.
As guests gather round, Miss Daisy brings out her late Mother-in-Laws antique pressed glass punch cups for a demonstration on how to serve her Cold Cucumber Soup as an hors d’oeuvre or a first course. With a pastry brush she lines the rim of each delicate cup with lemon juice before pressing in a special spice mixture made with a hint of cayenne. The little bit of heat compliments the soup in much the same way as salt compliments a margarita.
A Southern Menu
Her menu for the night is Rosemary Roasted Beef Tenderloin, Butterbean Salad, Uptown Grits, Curried Baked Fruit and Spring Fruit Trifle.
As a Southern trifecta of green bell peppers, onions and tomatoes cook in an electric skillet, beef tenderloin is rubbed with generous amounts of olive oil, salt, pepper and sprigs of rosemary. Wine glasses are refilled and guests watch hungrily as Miss Daisy floats about the kitchen with an energy that is contagious, chatting about each step of the recipe in the same laidback fashion one might imagine her tutoring a new Daughter-in-Law on the secrets of a family recipe.
In a large white bowl, she tosses butter beans (lima beans as they are known outside of the South) with chopped green onions, celery and green bell peppers, forming a side dish as Southern as the grits she is about to serve.
In the South, grits are not only a staple addition to any meal they are also a subject of great debate even amongst family members. While ‘instant grits’ may not get you banished from the family, they will certainly get you talked about for years to come. However, quick-cooking grits (the ones that say ‘cooks in 5 minutes’) are perfectly acceptable, although they are cooked far longer than five minutes. There are spoon grits and fork grits – nick-named for the utensil used to eat them depending on thickness. Tonight, Miss Daisy is mixing her grits with that delicious tomato mixture that has been simmering away in the skillet. Once they are mixed with the sauce, topped with generous amounts of cheese and allowed to bake for a few minutes the end result will be perfect, moist and fluffy heaven.
Probably nothing more clearly exemplifies this elegant, yet remarkably uncomplicated, dinner like the Spring Fruit Trifle she’s preparing for desert. Fresh ripe berries and kiwi take on the appearance of jewels as they are lined in a footed glass trifle dish and layered with luscious whipping cream and preserves.
As the tenderloin is carved and the casserole dishes are set out, hungry people line up around the kitchen island for healthy portions of mouthwatering food. Miss Daisy looks over the gathering with the same loving satisfaction of a mother whose family is happily digging in to the fruits of her evening’s labor. A feeling that is only intensified when her son, Patrick, stops by to lend a helping hand to the cleanup effort.
In an industry where independent restaurants aren’t expected to last more than a few years and todays sensation is tomorrows forgotten fad, maintaining a career that thrives as long as Daisy King’s is a feat of monumental proportion. But here, the ingredients for that kind of success are obvious – a love of people, a love of great food, a heart for serving others and an energy level that knows no bounds.
Click the image to scroll