City Paper: You've been bouncing around all over the place. How does it feel to be back in the Lowcountry?
Kardea Brown: Charleston will always be home. I still have a house here, and it's always great to come back after being gone for months at a time. No matter where I'm at, when people find out I'm from Charleston, they always talk about how beautiful it is.
CP: What's your first stop when you get home?
KB: If I have time, I hit up Ella & Ollie's in Edisto Island. I've been going there for a while and everything on the menu is amazing. In Charleston, it's definitely Boxcar Betty's; those chicken sandwiches are so delicious.
CP: You can't forget the red rice, right?
KB: Absolutely. I have to say that I make the best red rice I know of, without a shadow of a doubt. People typically use sausage or another kind of meat, but I make mine without any meat. The combination of herbs and spices I use helps to achieve that perfect flavor profile.
CP: Is that your favorite one pot dish?
KB: Definitely. But then you have okra stew, which is also a popular one pot dish in my family along with the rest of the Gullah-Geechee community. You can build on it by adding seafood or other meat like beef, which I'm doing on the "Carolina Comfort" episode of my show, Delicious Miss Brown.
CP: You mentioned that Gullah-Geechee is the foundation of Southern food. What dish in contemporary Southern cuisine has the biggest Gullah-Geechee influence?
KB: The most influential dish would have to be shrimp and grits. My ancestors have this saying, "We eat by the land and we eat by the sea." My grandfather and grandmother ate that dish more so out of necessity. My grandfather even made his shrimping nets himself.
CP: Is modern-day shrimp and grits too fancy for your taste?
KB: There are so many ways to make it so it's hard to say. I've seen cream-based sauces, sausage, bacon … all types of variations. In New Orleans, they like to do their shrimp and grits with andouille sausage and a darker pan gravy. I can say this; I've never ordered shrimp and grits in a restaurant and said "Oh my gosh, this is delicious!" There's nothing better than the way my grandmother cooks it at home.
CP: I have to ask, what were you cooking for your boyfriend that prompted him to contact the Food Network on your behalf?
KB: It was more than what I cooked for him. I think he saw how genuinely happy cooking was making me; how it lit me up. There are a lot of people who can cook, but not everybody can multitask while making it look graceful. The way you move in the kitchen should be like seeing ballerinas in a recital.
CP: How does your prior experience as a social worker help you host a Food Network TV show?
KB: It helps out tremendously in the sense that I'm able to relate to people and be sociable. Having a grasp on psychology and an understanding of the human mind is essential in this business.
CP: Do you still keep in touch with the Food Network's Bobby Deen?
KB: Yes, Bobby and his wife Claudia reach out from time to time. I will always give him credit for getting me started on the Food Network. He always tells me that there's nobody like me and it's important to "stay true to you." Sunny Anderson and Nancy Fuller have also been great mentors for me.
CP: How many of the recipes you use are passed down from your family and how many do you actually conceive yourself?
KB: I would say it's 50/50. My grandmother passed down so many recipes, like those shrimp and grits, and there's a good bit that I come up with just by freestyling in the kitchen. One of my favorites is my surf and turf cheesesteak with shaved angus and fresh local shrimp. It's like Philly meets Chucktown!
CP: What would a Kardea Brown restaurant in Charleston be like?
KB: It would be like my show, very homey and centered around family. A place that pays homage to the food I grew up eating.
CP: Any plans for a cookbook?
KB: I'm actually working on one right now. It will be a combination of recipes and family stories that will hopefully be out by early 2021.