Chef Millie Peartree is an expert in soul food and Southern cooking, from her southern macaroni and cheese to her famous banana pudding cupcakes. This self-made chef and restaurateur is an iconic figure in New York City and across the country due to her delicious recipes and warm charisma. When I signed up for her cooking class last week, I knew I'd come out of it with a fun memory and a tasty meal!
Chef Millie Peartree
Millie Peartree has been perfecting her cooking skills from a young age. After college, Peartree took the responsibility of caring for her four younger siblings, providing happiness and comfort through childhood recipes. She then entered a cooking contest and blew the competition away with her mini red velvet cupcakes.
Millie then started her own business, Millie Peartree Cupcakes & More, in NYC, with which she has catered for many events an Hollywood stars and eventually expanded into Millie Peartree Catering. Her recipes and cooking abilities have become well-known, as the chef recently made it onto Good Morning America, and her southern macaroni and cheese went viral on instagram.
When asked about her journey to becoming the successful chef she is today, Peartree gave the advice to "never give up, if you love something you keep going. You need ten years before you stop something, and like Oprah said, just keep going and put your mind to it."
Peartree has lived by this mantra in her own life, and has been featured in the New York Times and Delish for her soul food classics, like caramelized banana pudding, sweet potato casserole, low country collard greens, sweet potato casserole, and juicy fried chicken. The caterer and cook has also opened a soul food and fish fry restaurant called Millie Peartree's Fish Fry & Soulfood.
This restaurant is in the Bronx, at 2558 Grand Concourse, and it's considered the best soul food restaurant in the borough. However, Millie's beloved restaurant was shut down in the Covid-19 pandemic, suddenly leaving the chef and restaurateur with no avenue to share her love of soul food with the world.
Full Heart Full Bellies
However, when one door closes, another door opens, and Millie Peartree took the opportunity to use her cooking skills for good. She first began feeding essential workers, and then founded Full Heart Full Bellies with the goal to feed children facing food insecurity.
As she explained, "my catering company got shut down and I realized how many people were going hungry during the pandemic, since many kids rely on things at school" she continued "it's important to be a vessel to help people."
Cooking With Millie Peartree
Another way that Millie Peartree is working to combat food insecurity is her cooking classes. Last week, I attended a class led by Peartree that used Knorr ingredients to make a simple, healthy and delicious meal. The cooking demo, which involved chicken teriyaki rice lettuce wraps, was given to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to show how to make a nutritious, accessible meal.
As Millie explained, the meal provided four portions and cost under $5, an amazing example of cheap, healthy cooking! Throughout the cooking class, Millie Peartree gave encouragement and asked every few minutes how her "friends" were doing, which is what she affectionately called the attendees.
To start out, she had us break up our ground chicken and season it with ginger, salt, and garlic. We let it sit while we sautéed red cabbage on the stove. Although I typically never cook with red cabbage, it was unexpectedly delicious! After a few minutes, we added in the ground chicken, making sure to break it up in the pan.
We browned the chicken, enjoying the sights and smells of a simple, tasty meal. Once it was browned and cooked on all sides, we put in the rice from the Knorr Teriyaki Rice packet, allowing it to brown in the pan for about five minutes. Finally, we added in the water and cooked the meal on medium heat until the rice was done, another ten minutes or so. Then, we put the chicken and rice mixture into a lettuce wrap and enjoyed the yummy meal.
It was delicious, and the experience was all the more enjoyable with Millie Peartree's casual, friendly approach. To make small changes that lead to a healthier diet, Peartree advised to "swap things out, like using avocado instead of mayo."
She also made the point that there are 20 thousand vegetables, and most of us eat the same 12 in our daily lives, especially those living in disenfranchised communities without access to a variety of foods. To see more of Millie Peartree and enjoy some of her indulgent-yet-healthy Southern cooking for yourself, check out her many cooking demos on YouTube!
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