Alabama’s cooking queen


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, January 27th. So glad you’ve joined us today for The World and Everything in It. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming next, a social-media success story. When lockdowns meant more people cooking from home, a grandmother in Alabama used Facebook to share her skillet skills.

EICHER: Brenda Gantt had no idea her cozy kitchen visits would be a hit with this foodie generation, but they are. From salmon patties to spaghetti sauce, her cooking posts routinely dish up more than a million hits.

WORLD Senior Correspondent Kim Henderson traveled down to Andalusia, Alabama, to bring us the story.

GANTT: This is my front porch… 

KIM HENDERSON, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Brenda Gantt’s home is a ’70s sprawler facing a black-topped county road. 

GANTT: I was raised in Tuscaloosa, then my husband brought me down here. I’d never even heard of this place, but I love it… 

Thanks to Gantt and her cooking videos, Andalusia, Alabama, gets Googled a lot these days. 

VIDEO: [GIVING INSTRUCTIONS]

She and her biscuits hit the big time last March, and now the 74-year-old can’t sit on her porch without strangers slowing their cars to gawk. And when she goes shopping, everyone wants to take a picture with the Facebook phenom. 

GANTT: Then one woman ran out from behind the counter, and she couldn’t see me. I couldn’t see her. And she said, “I knew it. I knew it.” She said, “I recognized your voice.” 

Gantt’s easy smile and silver ponytail are on magazine covers, and she’s been on the Kelly Clarkson Show. It’s hard to believe all the attention started because Chris Harwell and other men at Gantt’s church wanted “Miss Brenda” to teach their wives a few of her cooking secrets. 

CHRIS: I used to tease Ragan. I’d say, “I’m going to send you over there one Saturday morning so you can learn how to make those biscuits…”

The COVID lockdown was the catalyst Gantt needed to make good on those requests. Late one night, Harwell was rocking his son and scrolling through Facebook. He landed on Gantt’s personal page.  

CHRIS: And I see Miss Brenda right there. She’s making biscuits. And it was like this thing of gold.

Harwell, along with lots of others, shared the video. It’s had more than six and half million views. Gantt got thousands of messages.

GANTT: How do you do butterbeans? How do you do all this other stuff? And I’m thinking, “Bless their heart. They really can’t cook. You know, America needs help here… 

VIDEO: [BRENDA INTRODUCING A VIDEO]

Gantt doesn’t follow a schedule for posting her videos. But two or three times a week they appear, straight from her kitchen with its basic appliances and antique chopping block.

AUDIO: [GANTT DESCRIBING BACON PRESS]

She has a drawer full of seasoned iron ware, but her prize culinary tool is a 1970s Chef Boyardee can with the ends cut off. She uses it to shape biscuits. 

Gant’s recording setup is simple, too: her iPhone in a plastic stand on her kitchen counter. 

GANT: I pick it up and take it around the kitchen with me. It’s very primitive.

And that’s part of the draw. Followers say they love her because she’s so real. They also love her rice pudding. Cabbage casserole. Dumplings.    

GANTT: I think that I’m bringing back memories. They said, “I wish I had watched my granny cook.” You know, we’ll just as kids walk around the kitchen. We’re really not paying attention. Well, now they’re paying attention to me.

They’re definitely paying attention. The “Cooking with Brenda Gantt” Facebook page has 1.7 million followers. 

Adjusting to that kind of fame hasn’t come easy for Gantt, in spite of her sure footing. A couple of months in, a grandchild said she missed her “Big Momma.” Gantt also took on obligation that kept her from regular church attendance. 

GANTT: But I’m fixing that. You know, we live and learn, don’t we?

Gantt says her goal has always been to help people. Her social media success just gives her a new way to do it, especially since her husband died.  

GANTT: I thought, “Well, what’s my purpose in life?” What is my purpose? Before that, it was to take care of him. Love him. Be his wife, you know, be his helpmate. So I’m glad now that I can help people. That motivates me.

Messages from fans across the globe show Gantt that people are hungering for more than mac and cheese. They’re hungry for soul food. 

GANTT: One of the followers said, “You know we love your cooking, Ms. Brenda, that’s the cake. But you telling about Jesus — that’s the icing on the cake.”

It’s a surprise platform for Gantt. She takes her role seriously.  

GANTT: It tells in Scripture for the older women to teach the younger ones. Now that doesn’t just mean in cooking. That means in life skills, getting along with your husband, raising children, appropriate dress, all kinds of stuff.

But that kind of investing is really nothing new for Gantt. She’s been faithfully teaching women like Chris Harwell’s wife, Ragan, all along. 

RAGAN: …to serve your family, be hospitable to other people, sharing what God’s doing in your life over a meal…

But now with such a reach, like in this dessert post from last summer. 

VIDEO: [As unto the Lord…]

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Andalusia, Alabama.


(Photo/Brenda Gantt)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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