47: Southern Cooking with Chef Virginia Willis

Southern cuisine is having a moment! Whether you were raised in the south or you're simply curious about the food, recipes, and farming culture from this diverse U.S. region, I hope you'll tune in to hear my interview with Georgia-born chef and cookbook author, Virginia Willis.

Virginia is the author of the gorgeous new cookbook, Secrets of the Southern Table, and she's here with tips for stocking a southern pantry, nutritious recipes your family will love -- including a sweet potato and pecan bread that's to die for, spatchcock chicken, and the best sweet potato & greens gratin recipe on the planet -- and family stories that shaped her love of southern cooking.

What you’ll hear in this episode:

  • Southern cuisine is defined as diverse foods from the 13 states in the south, which has a year-round growing season.
  • Why the always-growing immigrant population of the south means the cuisine is always evolving
  • Traditional Southern food includes healthy superstars like corn, tomatoes, butterbeans, green beans, okra, eggplant, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Okra, is a polarizing vegetable, and the key to culinary success is to lightly cook it. Virginia loves to grill or broil it and pair it with an acid, like tomatoes).
  • Virginia’s culinary path: She grew up with fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden in a family of adventurous cooks who loved a variety of foods.
  • What family dinner looked like for Virginia when she was growing up complete with good manners, politeness, and respect for the food.
  • Virginia’s weeknight Southern family go-to: a one-pot or skillet meal with sauteed greens or veggies with seared boneless chicken thighs sprinkled with Cajun seasoning.
  • Tips for parents: get kids’ hands into the food prep process. (Hint: make taco night more healthy.)
  • Virginia’s book, a celebration of the South, and why she included stories of different farmers and ethnic groups. We are giving away a copy of Secrets of the Southern Table. (Giveaway ends Feb. 27th, 2019.)
  • How Virginia grew up eating “gospel bird” every Sunday.
  • Virginia’s favorite recipe from the book: Spatchcock Sorghum Chicken. Brine it first, then cut out the backbone and open the chicken like a book (this cuts down on cooking time and allows more even cooking). Season with butter, smoked paprika, and sorghum (or honey).
  • Other favorite recipes from the book:
    • Smashed fried okra with spicy yogurt dipping sauce
    • Spiced sweet potato and pecan breakfast bread: it’s made with a large sweet potato, whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, brown sugar, applesauce, eggs, pecans, and flax seeds
    • Savory sweet potato and greens gratin, which bakes up rich and creamy, with a panko and Parmesan topping
    • Seared scallops with radish and candied jalapeño
    • Peach upside-down cake (use cake flour for a lighter texture)
  • Virginia’s tips for cooking collard greens, which are higher in nutritional value than kale!
  • Virginia’s work for Martha Stewart as the kitchen director for the TV series. She was in charge of all the food and all the farmers’ market shopping!
  • Coming up next for Virginia is a more internationally-focused book, as she ventures away from strictly Southern cooking.


Virginia's website: https://virginiawillis.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/virginiawillis 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/virginiawillis/ 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChefVirginiaWillis/ 

Virginia's cookbooks: https://virginiawillis.com/cookbooks.html 

Secrets of the Southern Table on Amazon: 


Link to How to Spatchcock a Chicken: 




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