In April 2015, Kardea Brown left behind her job in social services for a life cooking in front of the camera. She’d recently impressed Food Network executives after a boyfriend signed her up to audition for a pilot, but the suits wanted her to hone her cooking skills. So the South Carolina native and longtime Atlanta resident returned to the South from New Jersey to begin the New Gullah Supper Club, centering events around the food she grew up eating at her grandmother’s house on Wadmalaw Island. Food Network kept in touch, booking her to spar with chefs on shows such as Beat Bobby Flay and tapping her to host Cupcake Championship. Then, this past summer, Delicious Miss Brown debuted, allowing her to introduce the dishes of her Gullah upbringing to the nation. Ahead of season two, which begins in early 2020, Brown reflects on the leap of faith that led to her own show.
How did the New Gullah Supper Club dining
series get started?
When I came up with the idea, I was literally broke. I sold everything I had, moved back down South, and had to figure out a way to get my foot in the food industry. On my train ride—because I couldn’t even afford a plane ticket at that point—to Charleston, I was just sitting there talking to God and the universe. I said, “I like to travel. I like to cook. What if I just do some type of traveling dinner party?” But what could set me apart? Well, the food that I cook is different. You can’t find it everywhere unless you come to Charleston to eat it, so why not take Charleston to other places? I said, “I’m going to go on the road, and I’m going to share my culture with people.”
You often bring a Gullah singer or storyteller
with you to these events.
I’m big on visualization. The idea was to transport people to Charleston, and I wanted them to feel like they were sitting on a porch with someone’s grandmother or listening to a soulful song at a juke joint.
What makes the Sea Islands so special to you?
Spending my summers on Wadmalaw Island, where my grandmother is from—I didn’t realize how precious it was until I became an adult. My grandmother grew up in the
time when it was actually frowned upon to speak the Gullah dialect, or to talk with the Gullah tongue, because it was not considered proper English. We preserved as much of our culture as possible. The language, the people, the land, the landscape—where else can you find that in America? It’s really near and dear to my heart to be able to film in my hometown and to show the world what I grew up seeing.
When you prepare the food of your region on the show, you seem to beam with pride. Everybody thinks of Southern food, soul food, as heavy staples, but your recipes are light and fresh.
A lot of our dishes are big one-pot dishes that can feed a family like my grandmother’s—she grew up with fourteen brothers and sisters. A lot of our foods are based on what is grown on the land and what we caught in the sea. I think the Gullah people laid the foundation for Southern cooking. Before farm-to-table was a fad, it was what Gullah people did, so I wanted to show the world that African American people don’t just fry chicken and eat collard greens swimming in meat. It’s very intentional on my part, to show a different part of the South.
You really cut up when you’re around your family on the show. Were you like that growing up?
I am definitely a goofball. The funny thing is in high school, they have senior superlatives, so I was voted “most likely to be heard in the hallway,” and I was voted “class clown.” As a Southern little girl growing up, that was the exact opposite of what my grandmother taught me: A lady should be seen, never heard. [Laughs.] That just went out the window. I’m a big kid. I like to joke around. I think laughter is the cure to every ailment, any disease.
Your grandmother appears on the show. What
does she think of your work?
My grandmother is a very practical woman. She grew
up in the era when you had to make something of yourself through education, so when I told her that I was giving up my career in the social services sector, she said, “You have to be crazy.” Recently, when I got the news that the show had gotten picked up, she said, “I watched you, and how serious you were about your craft.” She said, “I’m really proud of you. I mean, words can’t explain how proud I am of you.”
She also taught you how to cook.
I learned the basics of cooking from my grandmother, but my mother was always the entertainer. She loved having her friends over for dinner. She always had big lavish birthday parties where she did all of the cooking, so I think that’s where I got the idea of cooking for entertainment, and cooking for friends and family.
What can we expect in the second season?
Season one was the introduction to me and my world. Season two, you get to know my family. I always thought that this would be my personal diary in a sense. I can’t wait for viewers to see my growth, not only as a cook or a chef but as a person, because this really is a journey.