'MasterChef' Whitney Miller talks chicken, earrings and Food Network

whitney-miller-masterchef-320.jpg Whitney Miller, the 22-year-old student from Mississippi, is America's first "MasterChef."

The Southern girl was determined to win, even after she dropped her fried chicken cutlet on the floor just before plating for the "MasterChef" finale on Wednesday (Sept. 15).

She gets on the phone with Zap2it to dish on her win, food and what's coming up for her.

How are you holding up?
Whitney Miller: I'm doing good. It's still trying to soak it all in. I can't believe the finale just aired. I've been waiting for so long for everyone to know. It was about the second week of April that it was filmed.

What do you think about David's comment: "Next to that one, she puts me to shame"?
Miller: To me that's amazing because he was such a talented cook. Competing against him, he had such energy, it hard not to be distracted by him. The dishes he presented to the judges, they looked amazing and I was confident about what I did and I just stuck to my Southern roots, and to hear the comments from the other contestants about how well they thought I'd do against Dave, it was just a such a confidence booster.

The Finale

What were the first thoughts in your head when you dropped the chicken?
Miller: Yes, that's the No. 1 question people ask me. That was crazy and immediately when I dropped it, I just thought you cannot let that title slip through your fingertips. It was something I thought, "Dave is not going to win this because of a forfeit. You're not going to lose a title because you dropped a chicken." So one way or another, I was getting another chicken on that plate and I did.

Was the second chicken truly cooked in seven minutes?
Miller: It was literally seven minutes. That chicken dropped, I had another chicken standing by, breaded it up, put it in the pan and I was praying through the whole process of it cooking.

So was it the editing that made it look like you took forever to decide to keep going ?
Miller: It did! I was like, "Oh no." I remember it was a split second and then Bam! I was off.

Did you mean to make your souffle look like that?
Miller: Somewhere along the lines when I was cooking, my whole thought process changed, and it became more of a souffle than a bread pudding. The one that I served was actually the third one I pulled out of the oven. The first one I had pulled out rose up perfectly, and I was like, "Oh wow, it looks pretty," but like everyone saw in the chocolate souffle challenge, a souffle can just fall instantly. So that is why the final product looked the way it did. Gordon said, "A perfect souffle would have looked like yours did if it had fallen, creamy on the inside." I wanted take it out of its ramekin because I really wanted to make sure you could sop up all the goodness of the white chocolate sauce and raspberry coulis.

How did you feel about watching yourself back on TV?
Miller: I was tearing up at certain moments because it was such an emotional experience. I remember afterwards, there was no smile on my face. I was so caught up in the moment. I just poured my heart into each of those dishes, I would have been devastated if I wouldn't have won because cooking is such a passion of mine and I thank the Lord for giving me the talent that I have and just the ability to just share it with everyone.

How did you celebrate your win?
Miller: I celebrated with my family because I was so happy they allowed them to be out there to experience with my. My family is my biggest supporters, and just knowing they were praying for me through the whole process, it was amazing. I actually went back to my hotel room with my sister and kept her up all night telling her all the details.

We noticed that Gordon Ramsay said you can't drink champagne. Is that a personal choice?
Miller: Yes, I'm Southern Baptist. It's just something that me and my family have chosen to not drink. They were really kind and had some non-alcoholic drinks for us. But to me, my witness is really important to me, and that's something if I can be able to share with people, then that's really amazing.

So do you have an issue cooking with liquor even if it's cooked off?
Miller: To me the first time I ever really cooked with any type of liquor was making banana foster for the first time. When I cooked it on the show, it's cooked out, so I don't really see that as a problem. I'm not going to chug it!

whitney-miller-masterchef-300x450.jpg"MasterChef" Behind the Scenes

Who among the three judges was the most intimidating?
Miller: It had to be Joe [Bastianich]. He had this intense look on his face. When you would go to present your dish to him, you never would know whether he liked it or he hated it. He wouldn't show any expression on his face. Some people thought that was mean, but I just thought he's serious about food. He knows what he likes, he knows what he doesn't like, so when you got a good critique from him, that was like wow.  

Did you actually use recipes on the show? How about the souffle challenge against Sharone?

Miller: The only time we were given any kind of recipe to look at would have been the chocolate souffle challenge. They let us look at it for a basis, and just go with it. I hate recipes actually because I'm too creative, too out of the box. So I was, "Okay, put your own spin on it." I think Sharone and I did a great job of that. He decided to go the route with the salt, and I used orange zest to really zest it up. It was there for us to look at, but it was such an intense moment, you only had so long. No way, and who would want to watch a whole competition of people reading recipes?

Who was your biggest competition?
Miller: I'd say Sharone. He was definitely tough. Knowing we were both battling it out in a dessert pressure challenge when he had won the cupcake challenge. I don't know if he had a love for desserts, but he had a knack for it.

So what is with your trademark huge earrings?
Miller: Oh my goodness, that has been one of the craziest things. It's so funny to me. We really couldn't do any kind of glitzy shirts or huge patterns. So I was like, "Okay, I'm going dazzle up my outfits with huge earrings," which is what I love to do anyway. On my fan page on Facebook, I've gotten so many comments like, "I love your jewelry. Where did you get it?" One lady was like, "I'm going to send you a pair of earrings." I think that is so cool.

The prize money can buy a lot of earrings.
Miller: (laughs) I'm definitely a thrifty shopper, so with this $250,000, I'm going to make it spread as best I can.

Thoughts on Food, Food Culture and Her Future

What's the first full meal you ever cooked?
Miller: It's been literally since the ninth grade I had first cooked a meal for my family. But profiteroles, which I had won the dessert challenge for, I made that when I was 14 or something. It had been that long ago, so I had to remember what does it look like, what is it supposed to taste like?

Some people call Southern cooking too simple? What do you have to say about it?
Miller: One thing is it that a lot of Southern ingredients it's time-consuming to make, and just putting a lot of effort into it and a simple gumbo it takes a really long time to develop the flavors and the roux. To me, the simplest ingredients are the hardest to make taste best.

Do you have a go-to comfort food dish?
Miller: It would definitely have to be something cheesy. I make a good cheesy grits. I use Parmesan cheese and make a shrimp and grits. So I make a shrimp sauce like a bisque over it. Oh my gosh, it's so comforting and good.

Who are your idols?
Miller: I love watching Giada De Laurentiis on Food Network. Guy Fieri definitely inspired me. He was on "The Next Food Network Star," and he just grew to be this huge icon in food. I do like [Paula Deen's] recipes. I do not fry as much as she does. I hardly fry at all really. I try to keep it more on the healthier side. If I fry anything, it's a pan fry.

Would you like your own cooking show?
Miller: I definitely can't wait to see what opportunities I have. I would just love to have a cooking show, even to be able to travel, because they'd like to see someone with a young set of eyes experience food. There are lots of people who don't have the opportunity to travel and that's why I like watching food shows because I haven't been able to travel around the world yet.

Beside the seven-minute chicken, do you plan on any other recipes from show appearing in your cookbook?
Miller: I definitely would like to put more dessert recipes. My white choc souffle will be in there of course. "Southern Hospitality" would be the cookbook, and I might also take it in the direction of the "Pastry Princess" and have a whole cookbook full of recipes of desserts. There's just so much out there and I can't wait to experience it all and share it with everyone.

What's next for you?
Miller: Working on my cookbook. I want to get it out as soon as possible. I would love to hear from Food Network and Cooking Channel about a possible show. I love being in front of a camera. That was something that surprised me. I think America did like my Southern charm and hopefully they love it enough to see it on Food Network.

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Photo credits: FOX

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