Every good Chef has the health and well-being of their guests in mind while creating a dish, but it isn’t every day a Nutritionist is the one doing the work in the kitchen!
Chef Whitney Miller was in her last semester of college working to finishing her degree in Nutrition when she realized her heart just wasn’t in it, it was in the kitchen. So, being a resourceful college student, she sought out advice from an expert on her life: her mom! “I was finishing up my last semester of college, and I realized I really enjoyed serving people and helping to make their day brighter, so I went to my mom and told her my dream of opening my own catering business. She was so supportive and we began looking for the best location to set up shop!”
At that time, Chef Whitney caught wind of an upcoming Fox Network television show called “Master Chef” and she thought it would be great publicity if she could make it into the culinary competition. “‘Master Chef’ seemed like the perfect opportunity to get the ball rolling, so I auditioned and made it into the top 50 out of 10,000 applicants… and meanwhile my mom was back home, getting everything together to start our catering business.”
It has been said that very few good things in life come without a challenge, and being a contender on a competition show forced Chef Whitney to dive head first into her craft. “‘Master Chef’ really changed me for the good. It was very difficult, with very long hours, and the sparse ‘free time’ we did have was consumed with studying and research… it was a lot like college!” To be competitive, Chef Whitney had to learn about cultures, ingredients, and dishes she had never even thought about before, “We all had to memorize tons of recipes. I grew up in the South and there was just so much that I was unaware of, that I didn’t have a clue about… but I was determined to push through, as hard as I could, and to do my best, no matter what.”
This determination was put to the test in the finale to the first season, when she was preparing her final dish, “It was a turning point in my life. We were in the last 10 minutes of the show, and I was preparing buttermilk pan-fried chicken, but I dropped it and had to start over. I stayed calm, I knew I only had about 7 minutes left, but I also knew I had to trust my skills, so I put more chicken in the pan, made it to the plate, and then Gordon Ramsey asked me if I believed it was fully cooked… well, I decided to be confident, and I told him it was. He cut the thickest piece and it was perfect, and I was the first winner for the show… I knew from that moment on that this is what I am supposed to be doing! So after the competition, I went home, finished college, and then my mom and I got the catering business going, just as ‘Master Chef’ began airing.”
Chef Whitney’s early education in cooking came from her roots. “I grew up in south Mississippi, and we lived close to my great grandmother… she really mentored me in the art of cooking, she loved it so much and had a great passion for how each dish and every meal could make a difference to those enjoying it. We had such a large family, on any given occasion she would be cooking for more than 30 or 40 people, so this was laying a great foundation for my desire to start a catering business!”
Being the first winner of “Master Chef” opened many windows of opportunity for Chef Whitney. “I was suddenly in demand, with requests for appearances and collaborations coming in from all over the world. I’ve been to China twice, South Africa, Malaysia, Dubai… and since I never went to a culinary school, this became my culinary training. I was seeing first hand the cooking techniques and ingredients from these faraway places and cultures, experiences that would never have been available to me without ‘Master Chef.’”
As if catering and world traveling were not enough, Chef Whitney has started a new adventure as “Chef de Cuisine” at “The Coop, A Southern Affair” in Winter Park, Florida. “I am very excited about having a place for people in Winter Park to try my food. I have just released by second cookbook, ‘Whitney Miller’s New Southern Table,’ and I have been putting select dishes from it on the menu, and it is so rewarding to see people enjoying them, asking for the recipes, and wanting to try them at home… it is a very humbling experience to know that people are enjoying something you have created.”
Cooking, creating, and passing her knowledge along to others who are just as passionate about food is what energizes Chef Whitney, “I definitely see more cookbooks in my future. I just enjoy the opportunity to pass along my ideas to people who want to re-create what I have made. People are always asking for my recipes, so I post them on my website, on my social media… it energizes me to know so many people are just as passionate about cooking as I am!”
When asked for any final thoughts about being a chef, Chef Whitney pauses a moment, and then replies, “I am passionate about what I do, whether I am competing, writing, or cooking for my husband. My great grandmother taught me that cooking for someone is showing them how much you care for them. Southern food is about the love that goes into making it, the comfort that people feel when they eat it, all the food memories that are made. It is a constant re-creation, finding something new, something fresh… it is the same for life… cooking and life, keep it fresh!”
If you would like to sample one of Chef Whitney’s creative dishes, stop in at “The Coop, A Southern Affair” in Winter Park, Florida. To try some of her culinary magic yourself, be sure to get her new cookbook, “Whitney Miller’s New Southern Table”… just try not to drop the chicken on the floor before it gets to the plate!