Nearly a year ago, 75-year-old Brenda Gantt made a how-to video from her home in Andalusia, Alabama about Easter egg dying. Next, her video on buttermilk biscuit-making — the third one she made — went viral. It now has 8 million views. This Southern home chef has become a Facebook sensation, inviting a hungry fanbase of now 2 million followers into her kitchen to learn new Southern recipes each week. Brenda is spry, primly dressed, downright hilarious and inventive in a kitchen. Her videos are unedited and rambling in the best of ways. Each one, often 30 minutes long, holds tidbits about her family, her past, her passions, her faith, and specifically useful cooking tips.
Her Deep South drawl lulls like a bedtime story, and her recipes lure viewers in like the fresh-from-the-oven pie sitting on the counter — it’s hard to stop watching. Plus, her unparalleled collection of aprons, each with its own story, is always eye-catching. She often gets flack from viewers for rarely measuring anything (except for “cakes, pies and cookies,” she says). No, Brenda wants to teach people to cook by their God-given five senses. She aims to remove the “fuss” around elaborate cooking that leaves the kitchen a wreck. She wants cooking to be fun, flavorful and fulfilling to the body and soul. Her unwavering joy and zest for life have touched so many people throughout this time of isolation, so we are thrilled to welcome Brenda Gantt as this month’s FACE of the South.
When and how did your love for cooking begin?
I love to eat. I love to eat good food and different foods. My mother was an excellent cook. The flavor was so good you could hardly stop eating. She made me stay in the kitchen with her to stir and help out, so I learned from my mother. As an example, when I was a child, I didn’t like cheese. But Mother kept making macaroni and cheese for me over the years. Eventually, I came to like it. Today, if the child doesn’t like something once, so many young mothers will never cook it again. I believe we should be cooking and eating a variety of foods.
Did your green thumb come from your mother, too?
That really came from my daddy. They had a farm down in Pickens County, Alabama, (near Spring Hill) until the day they died. They had big fields of peas and butter beans and okra patches. We would go there in the mornings really early and pick the crops, and then we would spread them out on sheets on the basement floor so they wouldn’t go through a “heat” that ruins them. George, my late husband, and I kept a garden together, and I still love gardening.
How did “Cooking With Brenda Gantt“ grow to be so huge in less than a year?
I am very surprised by it. It really was the work of the Lord. I never planned it. I was just trying to help people cook. You’ve got a whole generation here in America that’s having a hard time cooking from what I call “scratch.” In other words, not using recipes or measuring. I think they feel afraid. They’ve got these really big nice beautiful kitchens with countertops and stainless steel appliances. I feel sorry for them! They’ve got to go out to get good food, and I want to help change that.
So, you’re really trying to empower people to feel comfortable in their kitchens.
Oh yes. You’ve got so many single people and working mothers who when they come home don’t have the time or energy to be dragging out all these pots and pans. If you have children in ballet and ball, that generation now is having a little trouble getting supper fixed. They just want to make something easy, but they want it delicious. One day I showed them how to do one single pork chop with smothered fried onions — delicious. And it was one pan!
Who is viewing your videos the most?
The older generation is watching me the most, but I’m gaining more and more young people every day. The newlyweds and the younger people are asking so many questions. The older generation’s comments are more like, “Yes, I do that the same way!” or, “I add so-and-s0.” But they’re also learning new skills like how to string celery. I didn’t realize people don’t know how to do these things I’ve been doing my whole life!
This is the video that started it all for Brenda!
Does it ever become daunting having to interact with so many fans?
Yes, it is daunting because my nature is that I want to help. Sometimes I will get 11,000 comments on one video. I am really proud of the young people who write in with their questions. If I am not able to answer some questions before I’ve moved on to the next video, I have noticed that my more mature audience is filling up the gaps and answering the questions for the younger people. And they’re getting them right!
What about this venture brings you joy?
I wish that I had time to meet and greet everyone, but it brings me so much joy when they write in and say, “I just made my first pan of biscuits. It was delicious, and I have a happy family.” It’s empowering. It lifts their spirits and their confidence. It’s also a very money-saving thing. It’s amazing how much money you can save [cooking].
How do you decide what to cook?
Three things — whatever I’m craving, whatever is about to go bad in my refrigerator, and requests from followers, which, surprisingly, are basic, simple things like, “rice that isn’t sticky!”
You have so many aprons! How do you pick which one to wear?
You just wouldn’t believe how many I have. The aprons you see in the videos have all been given to me by followers. I try to wear a different one in every video, and I choose it based on my outfit that day. It’s such a joy to receive all these aprons.
What’s something people are often surprised to learn about you?
They are surprised that I come on Facebook with no makeup (sometimes I have on makeup). I don’t edit anything out of my videos. If my cornbread sticks or I mess up, I let them see it. I want them to see that I am not perfect and they’re not perfect, but it’s all gonna be alright in the end. So many people on Facebook try to make this perfect, but life’s not perfect. I just have a phone sitting on a stand.
You run a bed and breakfast, too. What else do you do in your spare time?
Yes, I run The Cottle House in Andalusia, Alabama. It’s a beautiful old 1905 home that we redid and actually moved to our property. I cook for the guests there every morning. Yesterday I cooked for 14; today it was eight. They have a really big breakfast. I do fried pies or fried dumplings, and a big pan of biscuits and scrambled eggs. I always do cheese grits, juice and coffee.
I also like to paint, especially Christmas ornaments and birds. I love to plant and root flowers and shrubbery. And I like to spend time with my grandchildren when my children aren’t around!
What’s the best piece of advice you have received and from whom?
Be true to yourself. I get that from my Facebook followers. They don’t want me to mold to be like other cooks on TV. Secondly, my family tells me all the time, “It’s all gonna be alright.” Just because things don’t go a certain way, God has a plan. I also listen to God’s word. I realize every day that I am loved by the Father, and I know that I don’t have anything to worry about. [Brenda laughs] I should put those in a different order: God’s first, family’s next, Facebook’s third.
Besides faith, friends, and family, name three things you couldn’t live without.
- The first is physical touch. The pandemic showed us how tough life was without hugs.
- The second is being outside in nature. The wind blowing against my skin, the sun shining on my face, the gorgeous things that I see with my eyes — I couldn’t live without it.
- Third is communication with others. We were made with a desire to be with other people.
Thanks for the lovely chat, Brenda, and for sharing so much flavor and love with the world. To cook with Brenda Gantt, follow her on Facebook and Instagram. You can also preorder her cookbook, It’s Gonna Be Good, Y’all, at brendaganttbook.com. All photos submitted by Brenda Gantt unless otherwise noted.
Read more interviews with our inspirational FACES in our archives!