Whitney blasted onto the scene by winning USA's first ever Masterchef competition.
She's coming to SA soon and she'll be making an appearance at the Good Food and Wine Show 2012. We'll be talking to her then, but for now, we chatted over the interwebs.
Where did your love of cooking begin – can you pinpoint an incident or moment when you knew this would be your future?
My love of cooking began watching my mom and great grandmother in the kitchen cooking and seeing how much joy their hospitality brought to friends and family. When I was twelve-years-old I aspired to be a pastry chef. I had a love for creating sweets and presenting them elegantly.
You always looked so composed during Masterchef. How did it feel whilst cooking in such high pressure situations?
My dad was a coach and I grew up in an athletic background. My natural competitive nature that grew from years of playing tennis was what prepared me to face every challenge. Tennis is very much a mind-game sport and I used that same mind set while competing on Masterchef.
What is the highlight of your career so far and why?
The highlight of my career has been the publishing of my first cookbook, an opportunity to share my passion for cooking, in the form of recipes, to others from across the world.
What are you doing with your career at the moment and what is your plan for 2012.
2012 holds many exciting opportunities for me. I am travelling on my first international trip to Dubai for a speaking engagement, one of three international trips this year. I have been asked by my publisher to write a second cookbook which I am ecstatic about. My hope is that my second cookbook in line with the first will touch people of all ages and fuel a passion in them to want to cook while having fun in the kitchen.
Tell us about your style. How has it evolved since you started?
My cooking style encompasses using fresh ingredients and putting my own modern twist on Southern classics. Since Masterchef and my many travels, I have incorporated more spices and the use of fresh herbs into my dishes.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by tasting new dishes at restaurants, seeing pictures of food in magazines, and speaking with people about food. I like to then take these flavors, images, and ideas and experiment in my kitchen to create new dishes with common ingredients.
What is the worst meal you’ve ever cooked? What happened?
I love to spice up my dishes with heat using fresh peppers and dried ground peppers. On one occasion, I prepared a soup with too much heat and my parents could not eat it. It was smoking hot!
What is the one implement in the kitchen you cannot do without? Why?
I love my microplane (zester). It is so versatile. I use it to zest citrus fruits, garlic, onion, and chocolate.
What in your opinion is the most underrated ingredient? Why?
I think in most home kitchens, fresh garlic is an underused ingredient. I use garlic to add flavor to all of my dishes especially when I want to use less salt.
What do you cook at home?
Because I live near the gulf coast of Mississippi, seafood is easily accessible. I love cooking with shrimp, crawfish, and crab. One of my favorite comfort dishes is my shrimp and grits.
What are you looking forward to most on your trip to South Africa?
I am exciting at participating at the Cape Town Good Food & Wine Show, where I will be demonstrating some of my favourite dishes, and teaching people how to recreate dishes they have seen on MasterChef America. I am also looking forward to sampling the local cuisine, and about going on a safari adventure. I am also
What do you think about social media as a promotional tool?
Personally I have experienced that social media is vital to the success of businesses in the world today. Growing a following on my social media sites including my Facebook and Twitter pages is very important to me being able to connect with others about my passion for cooking.
How do you view food bloggers?
Food bloggers have taken an important role in the media. From my experience, they can be an asset to promoting businesses, such as restaurants, and in my case my cookbook.
If you could have anyone cook for you – who would it be?
I would have loved to have a dinner prepared for me by Julia Childs. Her culinary journey is inspiring and the passion she put into her dishes I am sure came through in the flavor.
Who would you like to sit down for dinner with – anyone in the world? 6 people.
As a foodie, I would like to sit down to dinner with people who are as passionate about food as I am. They would be Michael Symon (Food Network Chef), Fred Carl (Viking Range, president), Jamie Oliver (British chef TV personality), Chuck Hughes (Montreal restaurateur), Curtis Stone (Aussie chef/Top Chef Master’s host), and Art Smith (Southern chef and restaurateur).
What would be your top foodie destination?
Based on my limited travels, I would say New York City because of the diversity in cuisines.
Your top recipe book of the moment?
My mom and I have compiled a recipe book of recipes passed down to me from my grandmothers and great grandmothers. I like to challenge myself to not only recreate the recipes but also add my creative touch to make them my own.
Your best foodie memory?
One of my best foodie memories is when the top 14 contestants and I were all sitting together enjoying a meal at a nice restaurant. We enjoyed sampling and talking about the dishes. We laughed about how excited we get about food and how our friends don’t understand it.
My mom is my food hero. When some people were eating packaged MREs (military packaged meals) during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, my family was enjoying made-from-scratch meals prepared by my mom. She can prepare a gourmet meal out of just a few ingredients.
I would say a passionate cook’s worst enemy is a picky eater.
What would you ask Whitney if you got to meet her?