'Southern at Heart's' Damaris Phillips: 'There really is a gender to foods'

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damaris-phillips-southern-at-heart-food.jpgWhen Food Network host Damaris Phillips was planning her Mother's Day menu for the Sunday, May 11, episode of " Southern at Heart," she remembered something she had learned from working in restaurants.

"You start to realize that there really is a gender to foods," she explains to Zap2it. "There are 'woman foods,' and there are 'man foods.' Obviously that's not true across the board, but there are foods that women just love. That's why on Mother's Day you almost always see the same things, for right or wrong, at a restaurant brunch."

That's how Phillips arrived at a "Ladies' Tea Party" theme for Sunday's episode, in which she and a pastry chef friend give their own spins to finger sandwiches, Southern potato salad and tea cookies.

"[My friend] is lovely, but we're not always the most feminine at times, especially working in kitchens," Phillips says. "Working in the back of the house, you have to be kind of tough. You have to be 'alpha' a lot of the time to succeed there. After years of that, this is just our play on being as dainty and feminine as we can be."

Sunday's episode also will mark the nine-month anniversary of Phillips' win on the ninth season of "Food Network Star."

"The first day I walked onto the ['Southern at Home'] set, I realized, 'Oh. This is actually happening.' The reality set in that I actually had to do it," she says of landing her own show. "I had a job now, and there was an expectation of me that I actually had to fulfill. It was no longer just a fantasy."

Do you prefer working as a pastry chef to working with other foods?

"I love both of them equally. When you're a girl and you walk into a kitchen, for whatever reason, a lot of people just assume you're a baker. I just wanted to prove everybody wrong, to show them that I also could be good with a big old slab of ribs and a grill. I wanted to be able to do it all."

Do you have a Food Network idol?

"Alton Brown is my hero. Growing up watching Food Network, he was the one I aspired to be. The first time I was going to meet him, I remember thinking, 'Maybe he won't be that cool, which would be good, because I won't be so intimidated.' But he is just that cool, if not cooler. I kept worrying I was going to forget my name [while working with him]."

Do you have any spices you like to surprise your guests with?

"I don't think people use enough coriander and cardamom. Both are great with both savory and sweet foods, and people can't quite identify the flavor. It's just this little something they weren't expecting."

What is your favorite comfort food?


"I love banana pudding. And it doesn't even have to be homemade. I am fine if you use instant pudding and vanilla wafers. I just can't resist that."
Photo/Video credit: Food Network