Meet Tennessee’s First Lady of Southern Cooking, Daisy King! “Miss Daisy,” as locals know her, is the author of 14 cookbooks and has been cooking up Southern dishes for more than 40 years. She has entertained presidents, senators, country music legends and governors, as well as countless patrons at the renowned Miss Daisy’s Tearoom in Franklin at Carters Court and then in Nashville. Today, she dishes up her specialties at Miss Daisy’s Kitchen within the Grassland Foodland Market. Welcome Miss Daisy, today’s FACE of Nashville and Williamson County!
Tell us about your family and your journey from Buford, GA, to Williamson County.
My journey from Buford, GA, started because of my interest in attending Belmont University. While at Belmont, I chose home economics as my major with a minor in speech, communication and journalism. I loved the university and all the people in Tennessee. They made a Georgia girl feel right at home. I met my husband, Wayne King, while at Belmont. Ironically, his father, Herman L. King, and several other Baptists founded Belmont. I graduated in 1967. Dr. Herman King was secretary of the Board of Trustees at the time and signed my diploma. I am deeply indebted to the school for offering me a degree and introducing me to the King family. Wayne and I married after graduation and moved to beautiful Williamson County. We became members of Brentwood Country Club. I became Ladies Day Chairman when I was 23 years old. This was my first gig in the food/entertaining world. The love of entertaining led me to meeting Calvin Lehew in 1973, who was building Carters Court in Franklin. He along with his wife, Marilyn, opened Miss Daisy’s Tearoom in 1974. My love of the county and the Franklin folks grew fonder and fonder. They embraced me as their very own, and I’m still known as Miss Daisy in the area today.
Patrick was born during the early years of the tearoom at Carters Court. He was born with a gene that allows him to eat really good food. I would rather share a meal with him than anyone else. He has a nose to figure out ingredients better than anyone else! We lost dear Kevin in 2010—his love, life, laughter and legacy live on for those who love him and have met him.
What are your earliest memories of cooking?
I was so blessed to have one of my earliest memories of cooking created by my grandmother. My parents had passed away before I was 6, and my grandparents came to live with me and take on the parental role. Finding a strong female presence is important for the healthy development of any child, and I found my love of the culinary arts through her. I remember her teaching me how to make biscuits by hand.
One of my most memorable items I’ve served at my restaurants through the years has been the Five Flavor Pound Cake, which I learned to bake with her when I was 6 years of age. Farm life taught me how to gather vegetables, cure hams, dry fruits for pies, churn butter, milk a cow and on and on. All of that hands-on experience taught me to recognize and appreciate the freshness of ingredients.
Tell us about your days as a home economics major at Belmont University.
My days studying home economics at Belmont were enjoyed within a wide spectrum within the discipline. People often think of home ec as something that is one-dimensional and never really learn its many applications. I specialized in food and nutrition science, but also learned to design clothes and draft interior design plans. My professor passed away my senior year at Belmont. I was asked to teach two of her classes. One was planning food budgets for the month, and the other was family and child care.
Most people may not know that you taught at St. Bernard Academy. Tell us about a favorite memory from teaching there.
It had to be the politeness of the students. They were so disciplined. The girls would stand as the teachers entered the classroom and waited to be seated until you gave them permission.
Is there one recipe that you find people ask you about more than others?
Oh, there are many for which I get requests. I have written 14 cookbooks since 1978. My pimento cheese is always popular. The one that has continually been requested from the early years at Miss Daisy’s Tearoom in Carters Court is Miss Daisy’s Beef Casserole. I have so many wonderful comments about it. The one most talked about cookbook would have to be Recipes From Miss Daisy’s, which has become known as The Little Yellow Cookbook.
What notable attribute have you learned about yourself through your career?
I try to remain steadfast in all things that I do. To quote Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That particular passage in the Holy Bible has taught me to never give up.
Do you have a mentor? How has that person impacted or inspired you?
Over the years, I have had so many that I couldn’t possibly name them all. I firmly believe that you can learn something from anyone, regardless of their interests and stature in life. Helen Corbitt, cookbook author and founder of The Zodiac Room in the Neiman Marcus stores, was a wealth of wisdom in helping me plan the menu for the Miss Daisy’s in Carters Court. My business partner, Calvin Lehew, was a continuous source of knowledge during my formative days as a restaurateur. Steven Crook, owner of the line of Steven’s Fun Fresh Food Stores in the 1990s, gave me a proper introduction of grocery stores.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given over the years?
I find that advice depends on the time and situation, as its value can become apparent when and where it can be applied. My late father-in-law shared with me when I first opened Miss Daisy’s Tearoom some long-term advice: He said, “Always focus on your own business and give it 100 percent plus and not worry about the competition.” (It has worked!)
What can we find you doing in your free time?
Free time? What is that? If I have any at this stage of my life, you can find me tending to the flowers on my patio. I get great joy watching them open their eyes in the morning and flowering all day. The word “daisy” means the opening of the eye and the beginning of the day.
What books are currently found on your nightstand or e-reader?
Being a writer, one has to be an avid reader. Outside the obvious answer of being a big fan of StyleBlueprint, I read many of the local publications. The Tennessean, Nashville Scene, Nashville Arts Magazine, Southern Living, Southern Exposure, Veranda, Garden & Gun and, of course, Your Williamson Magazine. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be the hospitality and entertaining columnist to Your Williamson. The column features pages of recipes with photos and stories about them.
In terms of books, I love any food book I can get my hands on. First and foremost, I keep my spiritual and healing books by my nightstand.
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
A positive attitude, my work, which gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and dining at recently opened restaurants.
Today’s photos by Heather Sisemore Photography.