Whitney Miller, local chef inspired by women
Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 25, 2017
This the last in a series of stories celebrating local women in recognition of Women’s History Month.
Poplarville native Whitney Miller won the first season of Masterchef in 2010 at just 22-years-old and has gone on to publish two cookbooks, travel the world and inspire others.
At a young age, Miller was introduced to cooking by her mother and great-grandmother, who spread happiness by preparing food for others.
“That passion resonated in me,” she said.
When she auditioned for Masterchef in New Orleans, her great-grandmother helped fuel her own passion, Miller said.
Now, she applies that appetite to serve to her own culinary career.
But, for young women who grow up without a close female role model, Miller would tell them to not be afraid to find inspiration elsewhere.
“For young women, I definitely think that if you don’t have that person to be that influence, then you want to look up to someone and try and hone your skills, whether it’s being an interior designer or any other path,” Miller said.
When she was first learning how to cook at home, she said she really looked up to chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart.
Now, the future of the culinary world for women is becoming increasingly exciting, she said. For years, women have been the ones in the kitchen cooking, but now they’re breaking into the professional realm and thriving, Miller said.
For Miller, the most important factor in her success was remaining confident in her skills.
“Even for me, when you’re kind of a petite woman in the kitchen, it’s hard to make an impression,” she said. “I just learned that to really fit in you just have to be confident in your cooking skills.”
Shortly after winning Masterchef, Miller was given a very tall chef’s hat while cooking at a restaurant in China, a sign of rank in the kitchen, she said.
“It definitely made me feel like I was given this position, and I didn’t even really feel like I earned it enough,” Miller said.
But that night and many others, she persisted, using that confidence in her skills as a springboard to further her career.
Miller now has two published cookbooks, “New Southern Table,” and “Modern Hospitality: Simple Recipes with Southern Charm” that include recipes inspired by her great-grandmother.
She also writes for various magazines and is now the Chef de Cuisine at The COOP restaurant in Orlando.
Miller was also chosen to be the first Southern chef featured at the Sundance Festival.
“The funny things was, I was chosen to be the feature chef, but I had never cooked for 300 people at a sit down, full-course meal,” she said.
Miller said she kept telling herself, “You’ve got to own this kitchen like you’ve done this before. People are looking to me for answers.”
Recently, she helped judge a culinary competition at Pearl River Central High School where young women without culinary training made some incredible food, she said.
Miller said it was exciting to see young people have such a passion for food.
With shows geared toward the younger generations, they have the chance to push themselves to be better, she said.
“Who knows what the love of cooking can inspire,” Miller said.
She also has advice for other young women looking to enter the culinary field.
“Know that whatever you’re doing now, whether it’s in high school or something that you’re doing as a hobby, take it as seriously as possible…You never know when the opportunity could come,” Miller said. “Just because you’re from a small town in Mississippi doesn’t mean you can’t reach your dreams.”