If anything will make you a better cook, it’s Hamburger Helper. That sounds a little counterintuitive, but if you understand it to mean that anyone who eats enough of it will seek out better cooking skills, then you’re on the same page as Teisha Whitney. The executive chef at HunnyBunny Biscuit Company in Uptown 23rd first turned to the boxed meal mix when she needed to cook for her family.
“Thankfully, it didn’t take long to get burnt out on Hamburger Helper,” Whitney says. “I started ordering a bunch of cookbooks, and before I knew it, I was baking my son’s birthday cakes, taking treats to school and preparing all sorts of different dishes for dinner.”
Whitney grew up in Comanche, Oklahoma, and like many Okies, she learned to cook from her grandmother.
“My nana was my first mentor in the kitchen,” she says. “She taught me everything from popping popcorn to baking fresh bread to preparing a whole chicken. She knew what she was doing, and I was always asking questions and volunteering to help – peel the potatoes, butter the corn and set the table.”
Her grandmother bought Whitney her first KitchenAid mixer, and she still refers to her granddaughter as “my little Suzy Homemaker.” The home was full of conversation and kids’ activities – chasing fireflies, picking blackberries and playing outside until dark – and family life centered around the table, where she and her grandmother served traditional food: fried chicken, hamburger steak, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans.
“I still cook that fried chicken dinner,” Whitney says. “It’s one of my favorite comfort foods. My nana’s fried chicken was the jam.”
This upbringing makes Whitney perfect for HunnyBunny, a comfort-food concept conceived in the minds of Packard’s Executive Chef Chris McKenna and his wife Hailey. Whitney oversees a kitchen that churns out buttery biscuits, fried chicken, sausage gravy and other traditional items. It’s difficult to imagine a better fit for a chef.
Whitney learned to cook by cooking, although she took a few classes along the way. She got a line cook position at Territory Golf and Country Club in Duncan after friends recommended she turn her passion for food into a career.
“I loved it! I took some cooking classes in Dallas, and I learned from everyone who was willing to teach me,” she says. “I worked diligently, and earned my way up the culinary ladder, mainly by listening to and learning from people who were professionally trained and/or passionate foodies.”
Outside the kitchen, Whitney volunteers at The Dragonfly Home, a resource center for victims of human trafficking. She spends time with her son, Christian, and still loves being outdoors. For her recipe, Whitney went back to her roots.
► How It’s Done
Nana’s Fried Chicken Tenders
2 lbs boneless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
Flour coating, a.k.a. dredge:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tbsp granulated garlic
1 tbsp onion powder
2 tsp paprika
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne
A cast iron skillet is best for deep frying; next best is a deep-sided sauté pan. Fill pan 2/3 full of canola or vegetable oil.
Crack eggs and add buttermilk to shallow dish. Whisk until combined.
Mix flour, cornstarch and seasonings together.
Coat chicken in seasoned flour, dip in buttermilk, coat in seasoned flour once more, shaking off excess flour. Spread out in single layer to prevent sticking.
Heat fry oil on medium-high heat. Keep an eye on it; if it starts to smoke, lower temperature.
*Quick tip: To check if oil is ready for frying, place tip of chopstick or wooden spoon to bottom of pan. If it bubbles, it’s ready.
Carefully place breaded chicken into pan a few pieces at a time. Be careful not to overcrowd pan. Fry chicken 4-5 minutes, flipping halfway through to cook evenly.
Using tongs, remove chicken from pan and place on paper-towel-lined surface. Keep warm in 150-degree oven.
Serve with honey mustard dip.
Honey Mustard Dip
2 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup honey
Whisk all ingredients into small bowl until smooth.