How's this for a delicious recipe: Take equal parts of Dolly Parton and Paula Deen, then stir in a dash of Sandra Lee, a smidgen of Reba McEntire and just a pinch of Martha Stewart.
The singer with the blonde, curly locks and vivacious personality brings Southern hospitality and home-cooked meals to Great American Country for a second season that premieres this Saturday (March 9; noon central).
To say Schlapman's career is heating up would be too easy, but the co-founder with Karen Fairchild of one of country hottest foursomes is enjoying success from both sides of the table these days.
Speaking on the phone in early February from Nashville, Schlapman was getting ready to attend the Grammy Awards with Little Big Town, which was nominated this year as Best Country Duo/Group Performance for "Pontoon," the hit single from last year's Tornado.
"When you hear Grammy attached to the word nomination as an artist, that's just like ... that's everything," Schlapman said. "We've had the opportunity to have several nominations. So we're always hoping to bring one home. My husband (Stephen) is actually building some shelves in our house for some things, some awards and stuff like that, and I told him the other day, 'Wouldn't it be great if this little space right here had a Grammy on it?' Maybe one of these days."
That day finally arrived February 10 in Los Angeles, the realization of a dream for a performer whose passion for music is clearly evident.See (from left) Phillip Sweet, Kimberly Schlapman, Karen Fairchild and Jimi Westbrook of Little Big Town celebrate their Grammy win:
If those harmonious feelings were in a tug-of-war with her love for cooking, though, it's impossible to say who'd win. Just don't put her in that position.
Asked to make one theoretical career choice, she prefers to give a good-natured scolding, saying with a laugh, "Oh, now ... Listen here. I wouldn't want to choose. But I'll tell you this: I will be committed wholeheartedly to Little Big Town as long as the Lord allows this ride to continue. And then I'll cook until way after people want to look at me."
Cooking, in fact, has been in Schlapman's blood from the time she was big enough to stand on a kitchen stool alongside her mama in the north Georgia town of Cornelia.
"But doing a cooking show is so completely different than standing in your kitchen cooking," Schlapman said, admitting she was surprised by the amount of work that goes into assembling a 13-episode series of 30-minute shows, with 26 shoots split between a Nashville kitchen and locations throughout the country.
She travels to places like Hoosier Mama Pie Company, Hama Hama Farm and Blackberry Farm to discover not only the joys of cooking but also oyster shucking and mushroom growing. Her enthusiastic, effusive, kid-friendly manner is the antithesis of the Travel Channel's huffy, snotty and potty-mouthed Anthony Bourdain.
"So last year, I loved every minute of it, but I had a lot to learn," she added. "And this year I feel like I'm more at home there in front of the cameras talking about every step that I'm doing and sharing stories and stuff like that. I think I'm doing a little bit better. And I think the show is better because of that. ... It feels even better than last time. And I didn't know that could happen 'cause last time was like a dream come true for me."
Schlapman (left) did indeed have that dream as a little girl, even making up a "silly little voice" for her make-believe TV hosting duties. "As I got older, I never thought it would ever be reality," she said.
Then GAC asked Schlapman to appear on a reality show called Day Jobs, where primarily country performers returned to their more humbling roots. Working as a waitress brought back memories of her early days in Nashville.
It also gave representatives of the station and the Scripps Network, with properties including GAC, the Food Network, the Cooking Channel, HGTV and others, the idea to team up Schlapman with Al Roker's production company to develop a cooking show.
"We all just brainstormed and knew that people would be interested in my life on the road a little bit because I'm in Little Big Town," she said, hastening to add that her bandmates offered their full-fledged support. "And, of course, since traveling is such a huge part of my life, we wanted to incorporate that into the show."
While touring with Little Big Town, which is a constant for one of country's hardest-working bands, Schlapman will often spend four hours of her morning in the field shooting one segment.
If the show gets picked up again, she wants to add sushi rolls and Cajun dishes such as gumbo to her next mouth-watering menu. Especially if a Cajun-themed program entails a trip to New Orleans, where Little Big Town just so happens to be appearing at this year's Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Season 2 locations include New York City, Washington D.C. and Washington state, along with places closer to home such as Franklin, Tennessee, where Schlapman learned how to make goat cheese at Noble Springs Dairy.
"I think that that part of the show appeals to people, where I'm learning and hopefully the viewer is also learning some new things, too," said Schlapman, who was scheduled to wrap up this season's shooting at the end of February. "And then go back in the kitchen and I'm inspired by wherever I've been to cook up some stuff."
The Nashville kitchen segments, which she revealed take place at an acquaintance's home because the show needed a stovetop on an island to enable cameras to shoot around it, include guests primarily from the Music City scene.
Craig Morgan appears on the season premiere. Other country artists this year include Martina McBride (right, with Schlapman), Josh Turner (making portobello mushroom oven fries), rising star Kacey Musgraves (whose major-label debut album drops March 19), Sunny Sweeney, Ashton Shepherd, Dustin Lynch, LBT's manwich of Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet (making ham and biscuits) and Fairchild, who appears with the group's three "young 'uns" (including Kimberly's 5-year-old Daisy Pearl) to make cupcakes.
Band and crew members are always treated to baked goods during birthdays on the road by Schlapman, who said cakes -- from Coca-Cola to strawberry to coconut -- are her favorite things to make.
In our 2011 interview, Fairchild spoke about the culinary skills of the friend she met when they attended Samford University in Alabama, saying the group often enjoyed going to Schlapman's house simply because "Kimberly's an amazing cook."
Singer-songwriter Holly Williams, who helped make shrimp and grits on an episode last season, also sang the praises of her host, proclaiming, "She's like the perfect Martha Stewart. The blonde curls and smiling face and everything."
The easygoing Schlapman never imagined a time when she would be mentioned in the same breath with Stewart, adding "Luckily, I have my husband, who is Mr. Organized. Because I don't have that part of Martha Stewart in my body."
And as outgoing as Schlapman seems, she's still too shy to ask Reba McEntire and role model Dolly Parton on Kimberly's Simply Southern because "I haven't gotten the nerve up; maybe if we get a third season, that'll be my goal."
Yet when the tables were turned, she was flattered to be invited on Deen's Paula's Best Dishes because cooking with the fellow Georgia peach had been on her bucket list.
"Being the great Southern cook that she is, I'm always looking for tips," said Schlapman of the learning experience in Savannah, where they experimented by topping a chicken pot pie with a cheese straw crust.
In a super market of hunger gamesmanship, the feasting foodie also admires Giada De Laurentis (Everyday Italian, Giada at Home), Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) and Bobby Flay (Barbecue Addiction among others), and tries many of their recipes. But when it comes to her own show, Schlapman sticks mainly with her family's tried-and-true dishes or modifies what they cooked up in the past, such as adding lobster to enhance a traditional Southern casserole.
"I have a ton of family recipes that are very meaningful to me," she said, noting that her first cookbook is in the planning stages. "And a lot of them have stories that go along with them. ...
"A lot of the recipes are adapted for what we're doing in the show. And some of the recipes I collaborate with the culinary producer on the show. ... So there's a mix. I try not to get too complicated because it is Simply Southern. You know, I'm a very busy working mom as most working moms are extremely busy. So I want these recipes for women to be able to realistically pull these off at night after getting home from a long day's work."
That might be easier said than done, but with the cooking craze on network and cable TV on the front burner, the show's strategy involves providing a source of comfort food that stays with folks longer than it takes to digest their dinner.
After a period of witnessing working families and latchkey kids all trying to make it through the night by popping a box of frozen food into the microwave, Schlapman hopes the country is ready for some nourishing TLC.
"We want a taste of that coziness and comfort of maybe what our grandmother used to do in the kitchen and what my mother actually did in the kitchen," she offered. "And we're looking for healthier alternatives and things that are better for our family than all those preservatives. And I think people find comfort in creating meals for the people that they love. ...
"Of course these days, our economy is strained, and so it's much more affordable, a lot of times, just to do it yourself in the kitchen. I love that fact that people are gathering around the table together more now than they were a few years back. I think that's so important for who we are and what we stand for. When you sit down around the table, it's a great time to catch up and share and talk about the day and I think that can keep families connected and together."
That's certainly food for thought. And as long as Schlapman keeps mixing up all those key ingredients, expect Kimberly's Simply Southern's second season to leave you hungry for more.
Kimberly Schlapman publicity photo by Becky Fluke.
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