‘Trisha’s Country Kitchen’ will have relaxed feel of Sunday dinner
Cindy Watts – The Tennessean

Trisha Yearwood didn’t want her own cooking show.

“I kept saying, ‘I don’t think standing behind a kitchen counter by myself saying, “Now you add vanilla,” sounds like fun,’ ” Yearwood recalls.

She hasn’t entirely changed her mind. What she did was develop a different concept.

Yearwood’s Trisha’s Southern Kitchen debuts at 9:30 a.m. Saturday on Food Network and features everything but just the singer and a spice rack.

The themed six-episode series introduces viewers to Yearwood’s family and friends while she demonstrates how to make their favorite recipes. The themes range from planning a baby shower and hosting a family barbecue to ways to lighten traditional Southern recipes.

She offers tips and tricks as she whips up dishes such as Daddy’s Barbecued Chicken, Uncle Wilson’s Famous Grilled Onions and Lizzie’s Chicken and Dumplings, most of which are featured in her two best-selling cookbooks, Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen: Recipes From My Family to Yours and Home Cooking With Trisha Yearwood: Stories and Recipes To Share With Family and Friends.

Husband Garth Brooks is not featured in the upcoming episodes, but there’s a good chance he’ll show up in the kitchen if there’s a second season, Yearwood has said.

“These first six episodes have my sister, my uncle, my best buddies and my nephew — they have somebody else in them, so I’m not just standing there by myself,” she says.

“And because these are all people that I know and love, it was fun. We were goofing off in front of a camera, and some food accidentally got made. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I really had a good time.”

Bob Tuschman, general manager and senior vice president of programming at Food Network, says Yearwood’s easygoing demeanor was one of many reasons the network was eager to pick up her show.

“Trisha’s cooking style, like the star herself, is relaxed, approachable and fun,” he says. “She loves to gather friends and family in her kitchen and cook up a feast with them — all the while telling stories, laughing and having a great time. Her life was a cooking show waiting to happen. From the first time we met Trisha, we felt her earthy, funny, warm approach to cooking would be a perfect fit for our air.”

At least one local fan agrees. Susan McGee, admissions coordinator and marketing director for Christian Care Center of Bedford County, says Yearwood’s Southern cooking in her books “just drew me in.”

“It’s not anything that has a lot of major ingredients or hard-to-find things in it,” she says. “It’s just very simple things that you put together that the whole family can enjoy. I just look forward to seeing the show. I think it’s going to be great.”

Meet the family

But production wasn’t as easy as walking into Yearwood’s Nashville home and flipping on a light. The singer had to rent a house in Nashville to use in the show because her own kitchen wasn’t set up to accommodate cameras. The cooktop faces the wall, and she jokes, “You can’t do a lot of great shots with your backside.”

They selected a home that was for sale that Yearwood felt closely mimicked her own style and set up shop to film.

With the location in place, the process of making Trisha’s Southern Kitchen began with the people she knew she wanted to include: her sister, Beth, her nephews and Uncle Wilson, who are featured in the cookbooks.

“Anybody who has the cookbooks already knows these people anyway,” she says. “They know my Uncle Wilson and my sister and my nephews because they are in the book. The show is like bringing them to life.”

The episodes also were inspired by her family. The singer features her dad’s recipe for Brunswick stew in one show. She says he was famous for the dish and prepared it for school fundraisers or family barbecues, but what makes the stew even more special to the singer is that it was one of the few dishes her mother wanted to eat before she passed away from cancer last year.

“I learned to make it when my mom was sick,” Yearwood recalls. “When you’re going through chemo, very specific things sound good to you to eat, and you might love them every day for two weeks and then never want them again. Brunswick stew was one of those things she went through that she really wanted.”

Until then, Yearwood says, she had never made the stew, which consists of pork, beef and chicken, and since her dad passed away six years before, there was no one to show her how it was done. When she figured out she could make it taste like her dad’s, she was relieved and wanted to make sure the recipe could be handed down.

“I want my sister’s boys to learn how to make it, and they were very interested to learn how to make Granddaddy’s Brunswick stew,” she says. “I was getting ready to do that for real, and the producer said, ‘Could you save that and do it for real on TV?’ I said, ‘Sure, that can be an episode.’ ”

Mom’s requests

In addition, Yearwood named one of the episodes of the show after her mother, Gwen. She calls it Gwen’s Girls, and it features Yearwood, Beth and some of Yearwood’s friends cooking some of her mother’s favorite dishes.

She says that after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she wanted to take control of her diet so she could feel as healthy as possible. When Yearwood and her sister moved in to take care of her mother the last few months of her life, she was eager to try a lighter diet and gave up meat and dairy products.

The new dietary restrictions proved a challenge for the singer, who admits, “If you look at my cookbook, there’s really nothing that doesn’t have cheese in it or butter in it.”

The sisters took it upon themselves to prepare food to satisfy their mother’s cravings without the staple ingredients they had depended on for so long. When their mother wanted chicken pot pie, the three women worked together to create a recipe to meet that want, without including chicken.

“She was wonderful at talking (things) through,” Yearwood recalls. “She helped us really develop a recipe that we ended up including on her episode in the show that’s called Chickless Pot Pie, and it is so good. It was a great lesson for me and my sister to learn that you could make something this way and it tastes really good.”

Slim and Southern

Yearwood wants to continue the trend. She says that if her show stretches past six episodes, or if she writes another cookbook, the lighter side of Southern cooking would be a main theme.

“My sister and I, our lives have been changed forever by going though this with my mom, and to pay tribute to her, I would really love to see these shows address that and show people how to make that comfort food but make it in a healthier way and just give people an alternative, a choice, that maybe one night out of the week you try this,” she says.

Yearwood says she and her sister are currently cooking their way through a host of Southern recipes, trying to give them a healthier spin. She explains that at the moment, there are more failures than successes, but says that if they can ever perfect lighter fare, another cookbook might be in her future.

Regardless, Yearwood says her motto in the kitchen is much like her motto in the recording studio: Keep it simple.

“In a lot of interviews, I jokingly say, which is not really a joke, that the most exotic spices you’ll find in the book are salt and pepper,” she says.

“But I think it’s more relatable because it’s not that hard. I have found that putting a bunch of extra stuff in a recipe doesn’t necessarily make it taste better. Sometimes, simple is best.

“That’s the approach we’ve always used in the studio. Especially now with pro tools, you can have a million tracks on a song if you want to, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better. Sometimes, the best stuff is the simple stuff, and you have to remember that.”