By Debra Davis
“It’s gonna be good y’all.”
Brenda Gantt’s Southern drawl describes more than just her down-home cooking. It’s her outlook on life.
The Andalusia grandmother retired from teaching 23 years ago and became famous after she posted a Facebook video on how to make homemade biscuits. That was April 22, 2020. In two weeks, the video had more than 1 million views and countless fans who were hungry for more.
Gantt’s newfound fame was accidental. It happened after younger church members repeatedly asked the 74-year-old to share her skillet skills with their wives.
“One Sunday, I decided to do a little video on making biscuits and get them off my back,” Gantt said. “I didn’t even show my face on the video. I just held my phone up over the bowl to show how I mixed the grease with flour and added buttermilk.”
Requests kept coming. The Covid lockdown created a need for home-cooked meals and marked a return to simple, homestyle recipes, Gantt said.
“People on Facebook would ask me things like, ‘Can you show me how to cut up a chicken?’ or ‘Can you show me how to cook rice that’s not sticky?’ and ‘Can you teach me how to cook butterbeans?’ It beat all I’d ever seen,” she said. “Bless their heart, these people really can’t cook even simple things I always took for granted.”
Before long, Gantt’s son-in-law, Walt Merrell, helped transition her personal Facebook page into Cooking With Brenda Gantt, which now boasts over 1.8 million followers.
Her videos often begin with a big smile and her familiar phrase “Good morning, Facebook fans!” She shares her kitchen adventures covering everything from ham dumplings and fried quail to stories about her big, white bulldog named Biscuit.
Gantt’s well-known antique chopping block is center stage when her famous biscuits are on the menu, as is the 1970 Chef Boyardee can she has used to cut biscuits for over 50 years.
Each video generates thousands of likes, comments and shares as well as attention from national celebrities. The unassuming internet sensation even landed an appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show.
She launched a Cooking With Brenda Gantt Instagram page in September, and her fans continue to grow.
“People love Brenda Gantt because she’s real,” said Alabama Farmers Federation Women’s Leadership Division Director Kim Earwood. “She’s like watching your mama or grandmama cook. It seems so effortless when she does it, but there’s definitely a lot of skill in those hands. Mrs. Brenda’s outlook on life, along with the joy she shares with others, makes her an Alabama and national treasure. Her love for cooking is a precious blessing that we all have the opportunity to experience.”
Gantt’s cooking videos resonate with viewers throughout the country, but they break a lot of rules set by mainstream social media gurus. There’s no printed version of her recipes. The videos are sometimes long, and Gantt rarely measures anything — including ingredients for her beloved biscuits. But she encourages viewers to experiment and do the best they can with what they have.
A devout Christian, Gantt adds faith into everything she cooks. She said Facebook fame came when she was looking for a purpose. Her husband, George Patton Gantt, died in September 2018. The couple had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a month before. George suffered from Alzheimer’s, and in his final years, Brenda was his caregiver. Before that, she was a mother, schoolteacher, ran a successful antique business, and a bed and breakfast. The couple also were active members at Bethany Baptist Church in Andalusia where they cooked the Wednesday supper for church members for nine years, routinely preparing 200 meals.
When George died, Brenda lost more than her soulmate. She still enjoyed her two children and their spouses, and her five grandchildren, but something was missing.
“I remember thinking, ‘Lord, what is my purpose?’ and asking Him to show me what He wanted me to do with my life,” Gantt said. “As I began to make videos, I also told people about Jesus and how to find real joy in their life. God lets me tell others about Him through my cooking videos.”
Gantt said people in other parts of the country aren’t as fortunate as most Alabamians. Many are actually stuck in their houses and can’t go anywhere, she said, adding that a lot of them are hungry for companionship.
“If I don’t have a video every day, they want to know what happened to me,” Gantt said. “I guess it’s their entertainment or something. But I’m happy if I can bring some happiness into their lives.”
Gantt said her recipe for a joy-filled life comes through salvation.
“Most people experience happiness, at least periodically, different times in their life,” she said. “But joy and happiness are two totally different things. Happiness comes and goes. When you have joy — that’s something within your spirit and soul. It comes only from Christ, and it never leaves. Even when bad things happen, you have an inner joy that takes over, and you know Christ is in control. It is in His plan.”
That’s a big part of Gantt’s mission.
“My goal is to teach people how to cook and let them find the Lord,” she said. “ You can’t push cooking or Jesus on somebody. I don’t want to be viewed as a fanatic. I have to be gentle in what I say and show how God can give you that inner joy.”
Gantt’s artistic talents extend beyond the kitchen. Paintings by her of an old homeplace hang on the wall of her home. There’s a cabinet filled with cast iron cookware next to the kitchen door. A collection of antique rolling pins is stashed in the corner, while chicken figurines fill the ledge of a giant picture window at her kitchen sink that overlooks her backyard. A pitcher of vintage ice picks adorns the fireplace. She calls each item a treasure because of the memories they hold.
She cooks breakfast every morning for her guests at The Cottle House, the bed and breakfast she owns across the road from her home in rural Covington County. When she’s not making videos, her life remains fairly normal, despite her celebrity status.
“I still go have lunch with my friends every Tuesday at a local restaurant, and I take line dancing twice a week,” she said. “I love to dig in the dirt and work in my yard, and I love my family. Sometimes when I go out of town, people recognize me and ask if they can take a picture with me, and that’s still sort of funny. But I love people, and I believe all people have good in them. It’s like God’s love for us. He might not love the things we do sometimes, but He always loves us.”
Find Cooking With Brenda Gantt on Facebook and Instagram and The Cottle House Bed and Breakfast on Facebook.