Kardea Brown Tells All About Her First Cookbook - Exclusive Interview

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Kardea Brown knows the power of "everything happens for a reason." The chef rose to fame after quitting her job in social work to open up the New Gullah Supper Club in Charleston, South Carolina. Since then, she has landed her own Food Network show, "Delicious Miss Brown," which focuses on tasty Southern recipes. The television personality also just launched her first cookbook — "The Way Home: A Celebration of Sea Islands Food and Family with over 100 Recipes" — to showcase the taste of a Lowcountry Southern household. The recipes include everything from a seafood potato salad to a crab cake benedict to a sweet potato cheesecake. 

With the holidays on the horizon, it's the perfect timing to try out her savory bread pudding and all of her other recipes that we can't stop eyeing. During an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Brown disclosed the inspiration for her new cookbook and shared her most helpful food tips. She revealed the biggest mistakes you are making with macaroni and cheese and even talked about her cornbread with molasses butter that puts a twist on the classic side. If you're trying to find a go-to holiday cocktail this season, she also has you covered with her Swamp Water recipe that you can turn into a mocktail. She told us some of the best tricks to keep up your sleeve if you're looking for a win at Thanksgiving this year.

Brown's cookbook focuses on Sea Island classics

You quit your job in 2015, opened a pop-up supper club, and then quickly became a Food Network star. If you told yourself that this would happen back in 2015, would you have believed it?

You know what? I knew it was going to happen because in my heart, I felt the presence of something big going to happen, and I kept affirming that I would eventually have my own Food Network show.

That's awesome — congratulations. I want to dive into your new and first cookbook, "The Way Home: A Celebration of Sea Islands Food and Family with over 100 Recipes." What was the process behind choosing to focus on Sea Island classics?

It was because I grew up in a family where my grandmother and my great-grandmother did not write the recipes down. Being from the [South Carolina] Lowcountry and having this Gullah Geechee background, it was important to make sure that I highlight Lowcountry Sea Island cuisine.

In the book, you mention that everything you ate as a child was homemade. What is the one recipe you ate throughout your childhood that still stands out to you to this day?

Oh, gosh — my mother's chicken and dumplings.

How do you go about making that?

In the cookbook, it's called Not My Mama's Chicken and Dumpling because she made it with canned Pillsbury dough like you get from the refrigerated section. Instead, I make my dough, my dumpling, from scratch with flour, butter, milk, and leavener. It's using dark meat chicken, searing that off and then adding in your veggies, carrots, peas, celery, and onions, then cooking that down, making a nice stock with that, and then adding in the dumplings and shredding your chicken.

Brown reveals her house seasoning

At the beginning of the cookbook, you add the recipe for your house seasoning, which is referred to frequently throughout the rest of the recipes. Can you tell me what inspired the seasoning? What's it specifically used for?

During my show, my producer noticed that I was using a lot of the same spices and ingredients, and he thought, "Maybe we should coin this because it's something that you use all the time." I said, "Well, it's like my house seasoning," and that's where it started. I literally say it tastes good on anything, poultry, red meat, veggies, seafood — it's a season-all.

I was like, "That is so smart to have one seasoning and reference it throughout the entire thing." I haven't seen that in other cookbooks before. It includes paprika — what were the other ingredients?

Paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.

Those are some staple ingredients, definitely. You include several rice dishes throughout the book. Which is your favorite from the book and why?

It has to be red rice. It's a staple dish in the Gullah community. It's something that was one of the first rice dishes that I learned how to make and perfect. That is my go-to rice dish.

Do you have any tips for beginners on how to make that?

Parboiled rice is the best rice to use. You can't go wrong. It never overcooks, and baking it in the oven is important.

Brown's secret to homemade cornbread

You also mentioned a tip that you have to rinse the rice beforehand. Does that apply to this recipe as well?

Absolutely. Yes. Rinsing the rice gets that starch off so it yields a fluffier rice.

Every year with the holidays coming up, I make cornbread for Thanksgiving. It was interesting that your recipe included molasses butter. What inspired that idea?

I love molasses on cornbread. I grew up eating something called sorghum on my cornbread. I like sorghum, but I love molasses more because it has more of that nice, burnt, caramelized flavor. I thought it would be cool to ... Butter and cornbread go hand in hand, and I love molasses, so why not combine molasses with butter and serve it with the cornbread?

What do you think the molasses butter adds to the cornbread versus the regular honey butter?

More of that dark brown, caramelized flavor.

How do you make this butter and incorporate it into the recipe?

Basically, it's softened butter, folding it into the molasses — both of them [at] room temperature. It's folding the molasses into the butter. Once you get that together and it sits — or you can refrigerate it — and once your [bread is] hot, you take some of that molasses butter, put it on top, and it'll melt and get soaked in by the cornbread.

How to upgrade your mac and cheese

The cookbook also includes a few mac and cheese recipes, which is a Thanksgiving staple. What is the biggest mistake that you think people make with mac and cheese?

Not putting enough liquids, like your heavy cream or half and half. It in turn makes a very dry macaroni and cheese, so you want to make sure you have enough of your milks. Using good quality cheese is very, very important because I, personally, can tell the difference between lower-end cheeses — it's the quality of it. 

Also, when people use pre-shredded cheese, it's one of the biggest no-nos when it comes to macaroni and cheese in my book. Pre-shredded cheese has enzymes in it to keep it stabilized on the shelf, and that inhibits the cheese from melting. If you hand-shred your cheese, you get it right from the block, hand-shredded, and it has a higher melt.

Which cheeses do you normally use? What would you recommend people grab?

You can't go wrong with extra sharp cheddar cheese. That's the Southern classic, Southern staple — extra sharp cheddar.

I will definitely be using that in my next mac and cheese dish. In your barbecue shrimp recipe, you recommend using shrimp with the heads on and the shell intact. Why is that important?

Flavor. You get a lot of your flavor that soaks up in that shell. I grew up eating shrimp with the heads on because, again, that's where more flavor is. What we do in Charleston and [what] they do in New Orleans is you take the shrimp and suck the juices out of the head and do the same thing with the shell. It's where all the flavor is.

Brown's favorite holiday cocktail recipe

You also included cocktail recipes from a spicy watermelon sangria, which looked delicious, to a key lime pie milkshake. What would your go-to cocktail recipe be for the holidays?

It would have to be my Lowcountry Mint Julep or my Swamp Water and spiking it with a little bourbon.

You could choose whichever one you prefer, but how do you make that [cocktail]?

The Swamp Water is super simple. You get some sweetened tea, lemonade or freshly squeezed lemon, and ginger beer. Then you mix it all together; it's super simple. Then spike it with an ounce of bourbon, or you can even use dark rum.

If someone wanted to make a mocktail of that, would they just omit the alcohol and use the rest of the ingredients?


Is there a standout dish that you normally put on your Christmas table?

[It's] my seafood macaroni and cheese that takes people by surprise. You expect your standard macaroni and cheese, but the seafood macaroni and cheese really wins the crowd over.

What type of seafood do you put in that?

Shrimp, crab, and if you want to add oysters or any of that ... But it's normally just shrimp and crab.

Brown has a frozen food line in the works

Do you cook the seafood before you cook the mac and cheese, or do you cook it together? How does that work?

The crab meat is basically [cooked] already ... Since it's pasteurized, it's already heated and processed. You don't have to worry about cooking that. But the shrimp I cook a little bit before adding it into the macaroni and cheese, because the macaroni and cheese doesn't take long to cook. People always wonder if it is going to be too rubbery by the time it finishes baking, and it isn't. It's perfect.

Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share?

Yes. Season 8 of "Delicious Miss Brown" will be premiering in March of 2023, and I am also coming out with my own line of frozen meals.

When is that coming out?

We're looking at the summer of 2023.

I don't know if you're able to share this yet, but what types of food will that include? Is it all of your recipes?

I can't divulge that yet because I don't want to tell everything, but it's a line of frozen products. It will be in a major retailer, so it'll be accessible throughout the U.S.

Purchase Kardea Brown's cookbook, "The Way Home: A Celebration of Sea Islands Food and Family," on Amazon. Keep up with Brown's upcoming projects on her Instagram page.

This interview has been edited for clarity.