Phila Hach, Who Spread The Gospel Of Southern Cuisine, Dies At 89 : The Salt "What the Grand Ole Opry did for country music, she has done for Southern food," one writer says of Hach, host of the South's first TV cooking show and a cookbook author and caterer for world leaders.

Phila Hach, Who Spread The Gospel Of Southern Cuisine, Dies At 89

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A Southern cooking pioneer has passed away in her native Tennessee. Phila Rawlings Hach hosted the first television cooking show set in the South. She went on to become a cookbook author, innkeeper and chef. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports she died Wednesday at the age of 89.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Long before it was trendy to have a southern drawl, sip bourbon from silver cups and plate up down-home country cooking, Phila Hach was serving barbecue and turnip greens to United Nations delegates and most certainly in her no-frills way.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "PHILA")

PHILA HACH: I'm what you see - nothing more, nothing less, and my name is Phila - love the name because it means love.

ELLIOTT: That's Phila Hach introducing herself to filmmaker Joe York in a short film commissioned by the Southern Foodways Alliance. The group honored Hach in October. She's wearing a bright, floral apron, telling stories from more than seven decades of cooking, like the time Senator Howard Baker asked her to cater a U.N. gathering in Nashville in 1976. Alcohol was prohibited, but Hach smuggled in 1,700 mint juleps made with Tennessee's Jack Daniels, no doubt.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "PHILA")

HACH: That's what we southerners like. It's the best damn bourbon in the world.

ELLIOTT: Another time she commandeered a grocery store bakery to make 300 chess pies when, on her way to cater an event for Roots author, Alex Haley, she forgot to pack dessert. Known for her biscuits, Sunday suppers and prolific pie making, Hach was a flight attendant in the 1940s. Food was in the picture even then. On international trips, Hach talked her way into the noted kitchens of Paris and London. Southern Foodways Alliance director John T. Edge says in Phila Hach, you see the South's better instincts come to life.

JOHN T. EDGE: She was a small-town Tennessee woman curious about the world, and she saw food as the way to explore the world and understand other people.

ELLIOTT: In 1950, Hach became host of the first cooking show in the South, "Kitchen Kollege." She wrote a cookbook based on the program and later authored 16 more. She made her mark at the bed and breakfast inn she ran with her husband. The remarkable guest list included Duncan Hines, Conway Twitty and Henry Kissinger.

Her family still operates a retreat center she started in Joelton, Tenn. Nashville food writer Jennifer Justus says Hach was very much rooted in Tennessee but had a magical curiosity that was reflected at her table.

JENNIFER JUSTUS: I've seen her cook with Kurdish immigrants, and then I've seen her serve sushi and biscuits from the same table.

ELLIOTT: In the Southern Foodways Alliance film, Phila Hach said she let moments empower her life.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "PHILA")

HACH: All we have is the moment.

ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

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