Food Network Star: Damaris Phillips in the post Paula Deen landscape

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“I am from Kentucky. I like to drink.”

–Damaris Phillips


One of the first things Damaris Phillips told Food Network judges during the premiere of Food Network Star was, “I can cook my ass off,” and though she got off to a slow start, she lived up to it, winning Season 9, and earning herself a network pilot.

Food Network Star (formerly Next Food Network Star) made its Summer 2013 debut with a crowded field, mere weeks before the network ditched Paula Deen. The show has really only launched one legitimate “star” in its first eight seasons. Guy Fieri is the only winner who went on to become a brand, in the way that judges Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis are brands. Others have gotten the pilots as promised, but hardly the stardom (Aarti Sequeria? Melissa d’Arabian? Aaron McCargo? Hardly household names.) In the past, the worst sins a contestant could commit was to be too much like a current Food Network Star. Skinny, sexy Italians? They have Giada. Glorious lush Hamptons hostess? No thanks; who could hold a candle to Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa?

This year’s crop had a good-looking barbecue guy and two would-be Fieris (“pie guy” and a mohawked guy selling culinary sins) as front runners.  All three were telegenic contenders, but their concepts didn’t gel, and they committed the worst food tv crime by being redundant. Poor Viet was probably one of the strongest cooks, but would’ve been a better contender on Top Chef.

Enter underdog, Louisville’s Damaris Phillips. Kentucky’s culinary talent has competed strongly in food competitions in recent years. Louisville’s Chef Edward Lee reigned supreme in 2010 when he bested Jose Garces on Iron Chef. In 2011, he advanced to the final rounds of Top Chef Texas. Earlier this year, Louisville’s Ashley Holt won TLC’s Next Great Baker, and even though Lexington’s James Brown’s only made it a few rounds before withdrawing from the competition to undergo brain surgery, he remained a fan favorite.

A culinary school teacher, Phillips seemed a long shot as the next Food Network Star, crying on camera in an early round in response to the judges’ brutal critiques of her awkwardness and nerves. She introduced herself in the premiere as “a total southern girl, being sweet and sassy all in one,” adding “I think of myself like a modern Paula Deen.” (Filming was completed long before the Deen implosion.) Bobby Flay and Alton Brown repeatedly told her, “don’t try to seduce us.” She drew their sharp criticism for her shimmy during the burger challenge…but everyone loved her pimento cheese burger. By the next episode, she was winning challenges, like her take on vegetables sauteed in a cast iron skillet with mystery ingredient mango pickle.

Her twitter profile identifies her as “teacher, southern lady and karaoke superstar.” Her facebook fan page says, “I’m usually up for anything that doesn’t land me in jail or chip my nails!” For her winning menu, she made sweet potato biscuits with peppered pork loin and apple mustard butter, in her sample pilot, Eat, Date, Love — her take on Southern Modern, with a lesson in “how to woo.”

Phillips has no plans to relocate for the new series, which will premiere on October 27, though she will likely travel to shoot. (Only a few Food Network stars get the luxury of filming in their own homes: Deen was one before her fall from grace; Ina Garten is another.)

Damaris’s Bourbon Ball Cake
from her facebook page

For Cake:
pan spray
parchment paper cut into 8″ rounds
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (the darker the better)
1 1/2 coups sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup warm coffee
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup coconut oil, warm

For Frosting:
1 pound of butter, softened
1 vanilla bean
1/4 toasted pecans, chopped
4 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp bourbon

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Spray two 8-inch round cake pans and line with parchment.
- Sift cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl.
- Using a mixer add eggs, buttermilk, coconut oil, coffee and vanilla. Beat until smooth.
- Bake 30-35 minutes.

While the cakes bake and cool:
- Whip butter in mixer fitted with paddle attachment.
- Scrape out vanilla beans and add to butter.
- Add sugar, mix until combined.
- Add bourbon, mix until combined.
- When cake is cool, ice the cake and top with pecans.

Pimento Cheese
4 ounces cream cheese (softened)
4 ounces diced pimento
2 ounces mayonnaise (Duke’s is my favorite!)
8 ounces sharp white Cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

Place cream cheese and mayonnaise into a large mixing bowl and beat at medium speed until thoroughly combined. Add cheddar cheese. Mix till combined, then add pimentos (add them last so they don’t get too beat up). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Have a certain type of cheese you love? Feel free to substitute another type of cheese in for additional flavor. For example, substitute 2 ounces of blue cheese in for 2 ounces of the sharp white Cheddar cheese.

Feel like adding a little kick to your pimento cheese? Substitute another pepper or flavor in for the 2 ounces of pimentos. For example, I’ve tried Asian chili garlic sauce, kimchi, banana peppers, ghost peppers and horseradish sauce.


Southern At Heart
New show from Kentucky food sweetheart will hit Food Network in October

Kentucky native Damaris Phillips was a dark horse and underdog in Season Nine of Food Network Star, reduced to tears in an early episode, but quickly advancing to take the prize: her own show on Food Network.

Phillips’ new series, Southern at Heart, will premiere Sunday, October 27 at 10:30 am.

A culinary arts graduate of Jefferson Community and Technical College, she now teaches there, when she’s not filming.

We enjoyed a quick Q and A with her after her big win.

Tell us about your Favorite Kentucky food memory of all time:
When I moved out of my parents’ house, my mom gave me the one home necessity in her book, a cast iron skillet that she discovered at a second hand store. She re-seasoned it, and I was ready to cook everything from chicken to upside down cake. Similarly, my dad showed up at the apartment a few days later with a vintage orange juicer he found at a flea market. He made us fresh OJ on the weekends and was worried I wouldn’t get the vitamin C I needed. Now, these stories could have happened anywhere, but they just happen to take place in Kentucky because it’s my home.

Name Five Things in your Fridge right now:
Cheese! Lots and lots of cheese. Moody blue, midnight moon, sanatoria peppered cheese, apple smoked Gouda, aged Gouda, Parmesan, Brie, and good ole Monterey Jack. I also have peanut butter, sour cherry freezer jam, left over Thai take-out and celeriac. Pretty random, I know.

What would be on the Menu if you were given a choice for your Last Meal? (Who would cook it?)
Spaghetti with meat sauce and banana pudding! My family would cook it because I already make them every year for my birthday. I’m sure after 32 years they would say it’s the one meal they could go without for the rest of time!

Your favorite Culinary Hero (and why)?
My favorite Chef and mentor is Coby Ming, the executive chef at Harvest restaurant. She is talented, creative, hardworking, and incredibly knowledgeable, but the thing that makes her heroic is her dedication to teaching and encouraging new cooks and chefs. She is patient, kind, and generous. In the kitchen I have never seen a better, more reliable leader.

What’s the funniest thing that happened filming Food Network Star that did NOT make it on air?
During the product pitch everyone ended up lending a hand to Rodney to get his complex and creative packaging complete. It was a tornado of plastic wrap, pie dough, duct tape, and coat hangers. As you can imagine, it was a comically good time.

Southern at Heart will begin airing on October 27 on Food Network. Check local listings.



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