Winston-Salem resident Bambi Daniels is one of 10 competitors from across the country on the new PBS cooking competition show “The Great American Recipe.”
The eight-part series, which premieres at 9 pm June 24, brings together cooks of diverse backgrounds to share not only their recipes but also their stories.
It’s a veritable melting pot of contestants from all over the country, from Rhode Island to California and from Oregon to North Carolina. They also come from diverse ethnic heritages, including Syrian, Puerto Rican, Hungarian, Filipino, Mexican, Italian, Korean and Vietnamese. That translates into a wide variety of dishes and flavors on display during the series.
Daniels, 54, is the only cook bringing a solely American cooking repertoire to the table, representing her Southern roots.
She said she got on “The Great American Recipe” after one of the producers contacted her through Instagram, apparently impressed with her food photos. But she still had to audition, including cooking a dish in under 30 minutes during a live Zoom.
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Daniels grew up in South Carolina, came to North Carolina to attend NC A&T University in Greensboro and then moved to Winston-Salem after she met her husband, local photographer Owens Daniels.
Her first food memories come from her grandparents’ farms in Chester and Blair, SC, where she spent a lot of time as a child.
“My family never went out to restaurants, and we still don’t even today,” Daniels said in a telephone interview this month. “My grandmother said, ‘You don’t need to be eating out at the store.’ We ate what we grew and what we raised – we had chicken, we had beef, we had pork, turkey, squirrel – anything you could possibly imagine on the farm and in the woods. ”
In her family, everything centers around food, she said. “There is not a time when I can remember not being in the kitchen.”
Even before she was allowed near the stove, she said, she was put to work snapping beans, pulling peas from their pods, washing collard greens and helping out at hog-killing time.
One of the first things she learned to cook was chicken backs. “My grandmother loved chicken backs. My cousin Jimmy taught me how to make it for my grandmother. We marinated overnight, slow baked it, and it would fall off the bone, ”Daniels said.
Daniels is not allowed to say how far she progressed in the competition or even how many episodes in which she appears. But she did say that she chose macaroni and cheese as her signature dish for the first episode. “In every Black Southern home, you gotta know how to cook mac and cheese,” she says on the show.
She calls her recipe a “generational” recipe.
“It’s passed down through the family, but then each generation adds to it,” she said.
Her twist is to make it a smoked mac with the addition of smoked gouda and smoked paprika. She also sometimes makes it with bacon.
Daniels has been keeping the results of the show a secret for about a year, so she’s ready to see the show air. She still has fond memories of taping it.
“It was absolutely great,” she said. “It’s about family and heritage and generational recipes. We became friends; we helped each other. What you see on TV – that was us. We were being ourselves.
“We talked about our family, we shared so much, that brought us together. To meet other people from other cultures, from other parts of the United States – it was so much fun. ”