Photos by Steve Squall
Louisville’s own Food Network star and author of Southern Girl Meets Vegetarian Boy graciously invited us into her home for a delicious, vegetarian Thanksgiving feast. No one left hungry.
She’s a local girl turned Food Network star and now, Damaris Phillips, lover of bacon and barbecue, has a new cookbook: Southern Girl Meets Vegetarian Boy. If it seems unlikely that the host of Food Network’s Southern at Heart and co-host of Southern & Hungry would be waxing poetic about meat-free stuffing and salads sans bacon crumbles, it’s no more unlikely than her meteoric rise itself. A graduate of Jefferson Community and Technical College with a degree in culinary arts, she was a cooking instructor when she won Food Network Star in 2013.
Flash forward just four years and in addition to her other Food Network duties, she’s co-headlining “The Bobby and Damaris Show” with the network’s most famous chef. “Even I can’t believe it some days,” she says from the stylish kitchen in the Germantown home she shares with her husband Darrick Wood. “Except that my travel schedule makes it feel real.” (After staging a delicious Thanksgivng for us, she was flying to New York City to start her book tour.)
Darrick, an educational instructor and vegetarian, is the inspiration for the new book. “Darrick has totally improved me as a chef,” she says. “I have learned so much about cooking by looking for new ways to do things. I’ve learned so much about flavor… I’ve found new oils, new spices, new combinations.”
While she is often on the hunt for meaty Southern dishes on her Food Network Show, she and Darrick are meat-free at home. “I’ll occasionally eat a club sandwich or order a pepperoni pizza, but we don’t keep meat in the house,” she says. “It’s not on our grocery list. And we eat well. I don’t really miss it.”
Her experience speaks to the way an increasing number of families of vegans, vegetarians and carnivores shop and cook—and the way they’ll be cooking during the holidays. “I think, truthfully, the home vegetarian cook is ahead of ninety percent of chefs in the world of vegetarian cooking,” says Damaris. “If you were going to do a vegetarian throwdown, my money would always be, always on the vegan home cook over the professional chef who’s not a vegetarian. They are the experts.”
And now, of course, she is too. “I didn’t learn this in culinary school,” she says.
“I’ve learned through Darrick and I’ve learned through practice. Now, I can make vegetarian dishes that my whole family will eat. It’s not a big deal to cook a meal for meat eaters and non-meat-eaters. Everything tastes just as delicious.”
As for the couple’s own Thanksgiving traditions? “So, we either go to his family or mine,” she says. “We switch off every year. At my family, it’s traditionally been all the cousins, all the aunts, my grandfather, so everybody brings a dish. And it’s awesome. Mom and I usually end up bringing the bulk of the sides and Mom always makes the turkey. Ike (her brother) makes the stuffing. His stuffing is the best stuffing. Hands down. He’s very humble about it, but it’s the best.”
What does the Food Network star bring to the table? “I bring desserts a lot. And I make some kind of vegetarian option. I do green bean casserole. It’s one hundred percent my favorite casserole to make.”
When it’s his family’s turn (which it is this year), she can bring her family favorites. “The best part about going to his family is that I get to test out all of my family’s recipes on them,” she says. “I make Ike’s stuffing. I make Mom’s turkey. Mom taught us to make yeast rolls, so I bring those.” They’ll be heading to Darrick’s family home in Cincinnati on Wednesday night and spending the whole weekend eating and Christmas tree hunting and Black Friday adventuring. “We’re also going to try our hands at a breakout room and catch up on the newest movies,” she says. “I’ll get back in town on the 18th for my Grampy’s 102 birthday and will have a break from work until the 27th! Clearly, I am very excited!"
HOLIDAY MEAL ADVICE FROM OUR FOOD
Turkey technique: “I had never made a turkey until l I was like 28. I was living in Seattle and I had to call my mom and I was like, “Mom, oh my God, how in the world do you make your turkey?” And she said, “You get the turkey all thawed and seasoned and put it into a super, super, super hot oven for twenty minutes and then you lower it down and cook it fifteen minutes for every pound. And it works! It’s always perfect.”
Setting the table. “I think it’s always better if things don’t match perfectly because then nobody is going to be like, “Oh, that’s out of place.” Just let it be a celebration of favorite things. ‘This was my grandmother’s and this is his family’s. I found this at a yard sale. My mom picked that up for me.’ Then it all works and has meaning.”
Plating. “Plating is just thinking about color. It’s part of Thanksgiving—which is brown-tacular. We have brown and we have some brown. But it’s also harvest colors if you bring in things that are in season. Use striped vegetables like squash and celebrate that type of cooking. Beets are a fantastic fall vegetable and they’re gorgeous and you don’t have to have a ton of them.”
Prep. “The best way is always cooking in stages. Get some things ready before. Have things you can make the day before and just heat up. Have everything you can almost ready. Let people bring things. Let people help plate. No one should be stuck in the kitchen for hours by themselves.”
ALL ABOUT THE BOOK
Southern Girl Meets Vegetarian Boy: Down Home Classics for Vegetarians And the Meat Eaters Who Love Them (Abrams, $29.99, hardcover) is available at Barnes & Noble, Books a Million, Amazon.