Almost a year ago, 75-year-old Brenda Gantt filmed a video about Easter egg dying from her home in Andalusia, Alabama. Next, her video on making buttermilk biscuits – the third one she made – went viral. It now has 8 million views. This Mediterranean chef has become a Facebook sensation and invites a hungry fan base of now 2 million followers into her kitchen to learn new Mediterranean recipes every week. Brenda is lively, primitively dressed, downright funny and inventive in a kitchen. Your videos are unedited and wander in the best possible way. Each, often 30 minutes long, contains information about her family, her past, her passions, her beliefs and especially useful cooking tips.
Her Deep South Drawl lulls like a bedtime story, and her recipes draw viewers in like the oven-fresh cake that sits on the counter – it’s hard to stop watching. In addition, her incomparable collection of aprons, each with its own story, is always an eye catcher. It is often weakened by the audience because it rarely measures anything (other than “cakes, pies and cookies,” she says). No, Brenda wants to teach people to cook with their God-given five senses. She wants to remove the “excitement” about elaborate cooking that turns the kitchen into a wreck. She wants cooking to be fun, tasty, and fill the body and soul. Her unshakable joy and zest for life have touched so many people during this time of isolation that we can welcome Brenda Gantt as the FACE of the south of this month.
When and how did your love of cooking begin?
I love to eat. I love to eat good food and different foods. My mother was an excellent cook. The taste was so good that it was hard to stop eating. She made me stay in the kitchen with her to stir and help, so I learned from my mom. For example, when I was a kid I didn’t like cheese. But mom has made macaroni and cheese for me over and over again over the years. At some point I liked it. If the child doesn’t like something today, so many young mothers will never cook it again. I believe we should cook and eat a variety of foods.
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Did your green thumb come from your mother too?
It really came from my father. They owned a farm in Pickens County, Alabama (near Spring Hill) until their death. They had large fields of peas and butter beans and okra patches. We went there very early in the morning and picked the crops, and then we spread them out on sheets in the basement so they wouldn’t go through a “heat” that ruined them. George, my late husband and I kept a garden together and I still love gardening.
How did “Cooking with Brenda Gantt” get so big in less than a year?
I am very surprised. It was really the Lord’s work. I never planned it. I was just trying to help people cook. You have a generation here in America who have a hard time cooking from scratch. In other words, don’t use prescriptions or measure. I think they are scared. You have these really big beautiful beautiful kitchens with countertops and stainless steel appliances. I’m sorry for you! You have to go out to get good food and I want to help change that.
So they are really trying to empower people to be comfortable in their kitchen.
Oh yeah. You have so many single people and working mothers who when they get home don’t have the time or energy to pull out all of those pots and pans. If you have kids in ballet and ball, this generation is now having a little trouble fixing dinner. They just want to make something simple, but they want it to be delicious. One day I showed them how to make a single pork chop with smothered fried onions – delicious. And it was a pan!
Who sees your videos the most?
The older generation watches me the most, but I am attracting more and more young people every day. The newlyweds and the younger people ask so many questions. The older generation’s comments tend to be: “Yes, I’ll do the same!” or “I’ll add so-and-s0.” But you will also learn new skills such as stringing celery. I didn’t know people didn’t know how to do these things that I’ve been doing all my life!
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Does it ever get daunting having to interact with so many fans?
Yes, it’s daunting because I naturally want to help. Sometimes I get 11,000 comments on a video. I am very proud of the young people who write with their questions. If I can’t answer some questions before moving on to the next video, I’ve found my more mature audience filling in the gaps and answering the questions for the younger people. And they do it right!
What about this company that you enjoy?
I wish I had time to meet and greet everyone, but I enjoy it so much when they write and say, “I just made my first pan of cookies. It was delicious and I have a happy family. “It’s empowering. It lifts your spirits and your self-confidence. It’s also a very money-saving thing to do. It is amazing how much money you can save [cooking].
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How do you choose what to cook?
Three things – whatever I crave, whatever goes bad in my fridge, and requests from followers that are surprisingly simple, simple things like “rice that’s not sticky!”
You have so many aprons! How do you choose the one you want to wear?
You just wouldn’t believe how many I have. The aprons you see in the videos were all given to me by followers. I try to wear a different one in each video and I choose it based on my outfit that day. It is such a pleasure to receive all of these aprons.
What often surprises people when they learn about you?
They are surprised that I come on Facebook without makeup (sometimes I have makeup). I don’t edit anything from my videos. If my cornbread sticks or I screw it up, I’ll let them see it. I want them to see that I am not perfect and they are not perfect, but everything will be fine in the end. So many people on Facebook try to do this perfectly, but life is not perfect. I only have one phone on a stand.
They also run a bed and breakfast. What else do you do in your free time?
Yes, I run Cottle House in Andalusia, Alabama. It’s a beautiful old house from 1905 that we remodeled and actually moved onto our property. I cook there for the guests every morning. Yesterday I cooked 14; today it was eight. They have a really big breakfast. I make fried cakes or fried dumplings and a large pan of cookies and scrambled eggs. I always make cheese grains, juice, and coffee.
I also like to paint, especially Christmas decorations and birds. I love planting and rooting flowers and bushes. And I like to hang out with my grandchildren when my kids are away!
What is the best advice you have received and from whom?
Be true to yourself. I get that from my Facebook followers. They don’t want me to shape like other chefs on TV. Second, my family keeps telling me, “I’ll be fine.” Just because things are not going in a certain direction does God have a plan. I also listen to God’s word. I realize every day that I am loved by the Father and I know that I don’t have to worry. [Brenda laughs] I should put these in a different order: God’s first, the next of the family, the third from Facebook.
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In addition to faith, friends, and family, name three things you couldn’t live without.
The first is physical contact. The pandemic showed us how tough life was without hugs. The second is to be outdoors in nature. The wind was blowing against my skin, the sun was shining on my face, the beautiful things I see with my eyes – I couldn’t live without them. Third is communication with others. We wanted to be with other people.
Thank you for the lovely chat, Brenda, and for sharing so much taste and love with the world. To cook with Brenda Gantt, follow her on Facebook and Instagram. You can also pre-order her cookbook “It’ll Be All Right” at brendaganttbook.com. All photos by Brenda Gantt unless otherwise noted.
You can find more interviews with our inspiring FACES in our archives!