Southern Belle and MasterChef

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Whitney Miller, Season One Winner of America’s MasterChef made an appearance at The Cook’s Warehouse in Decatur, Georgia this Friday, signing her new book MODERN HOSPITALITY: Simple Recipes with Southern Charm.  I had the pleasure of talking to this delightful young lady, who has wowed America with her rare combination of youth, beauty and talent.

Chef Gordon Ramsey was not too sure of her in the beginning, calling her a “lamb waiting to be butchered” but slowly caved in after tasting her oven fried crispy catfish and other tasty treats. Growing up in a small town, Whitney rarely had the opportunity to dine at fine restaurants or try ethnic foods, but she perfected southern cuisine like no one else! As her small town of Poplarville in Mississippi cheered on, Whitney became the first winner of FOX’s hit show MasterChef, published her first recipe book, opened a cafe, made TV appearances and started a catering business (all at the age of 22).

As I chatted with Whitney, I learned that she is not only down to earth, friendly and charming, but she also holds a strong competitive spirit. She use to play sports in school which helped her a lot during the MasterChef competition, she said. Whitney got along very well with the other contenders (as oppose to the people in Season 2). She also shared her stories of being in Los Angeles, having Indian food for the first time and making paninis over irons in the hotel room when they weren’t allowed to go outside. Looks like it was a fun experience but she is glad that it’s over and now she gets to watch others compete.

It’s amazing how Whitney has limited exposure to the world, yet feels totally at home in the kitchen, enough to be recognized as a real authority. It is inspiring to anyone who may feel limited (by their surroundings, age, knowledge, resources, etc.) but has a strong determination to succeed. She has proved that all you need to do is just believe in yourself, follow you path and success will come to you.

Here is Whitney’s winning recipe that caught Gordon’s attention. It is also the same recipe Season 2 contestants had to prepare during one of the challenges.

 

Oven Fried Catfish with Fresh Dill Tartar Sauce

From the book MODERN HOSPITALITY: Simple Recipes with Southern Charm.

Catfish

Some tastings from Whitney's new book

Serves 4

1 cup low-fat buttermilk
4 catfish fillets (about ½ pound each)
¾ cup fine-grind cornmeal
¾ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon crushed freeze-dried chives
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 Tablespoons canola oil

Tartar Sauce

Ingredients:

1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons stone-ground mustard
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¾ teaspoon minced fresh dill
¾ teaspoon minced fresh chives

Directions:

To prepare the fish: Pour the buttermilk into a shallow baking dish. Place the catfish fillets in the buttermilk and turn to coat. Refrigerate for 25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Combine the cornmeal, onion powder, garlic powder, lemon-pepper seasoning, salt, chives, and cayenne in a shallow dish or pie plate.

Pour the oil into a large cast-iron skillet and turn to coat the bottom. Place in the oven to heat for 6 minutes.

Working with 1 fillet at a time, shake off the excess buttermilk and dredge in the cornmeal mixture to coat.

Place cornmeal-coated fillets in the preheated skillet. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn the fillets and bake until golden brown and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the size of the fillets).

Meanwhile, to make the tartar sauce: Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl.

Serve the hot fish with the tartar sauce.

 

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Sucheta Rawal

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer, who has traveled to 50+ countries across 6 continents. She is also the founder and chief editor of Go Eat Give.