Lighten Up, Y'All by Virginia Willis

By / Photography By Angie Mosier | July 01, 2015
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Virginia Willis

Virginia Willis is a French-trained chef with roots down south in her home state of Georgia. She has authored two acclaimed cookbooks—Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from three Generations of Southern Cooking and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company— along with a book about grits by Shortstack Editions. She also writes a popular food blog called Down-Home Comfort, is a columnist for, a contributing editor to Southern Living and was named by the Chicago Tribune as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.”

Willis has cooked Lapin Normandie with Julia Child, prepared lunch for President Clinton and catered a bowling party for Jane Fonda. She began her culinary career tossing pizzas in college, has since foraged for wild herbs in the Alps, made mustard in Dijon and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen.

After graduating from L’Academie de Cuisine and École de Cuisine La Varenne, Willis worked with Nathalie Dupree and Bobby Flay on their cooking shows. We met many years ago in the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living—I worked for the magazine and she headed up the television kitchen. This woman is wickedly talented, both in the kitchen and on the page, and I am lucky to call her my friend. Willis may have honed her cooking skills in France and New York, but she is Southern to the core.

Recently, Willis’s doctors told her to lighten up her diet. She decided, in true Southern form, to do so without sacrificing any of the flavor or richness characteristic of Southern cuisine. Her latest book, Lighten Up, Y’all, showcases her talent in the kitchen as well as her literary charm on the page. She gets personal right from the first sentence: “I’m going to start things out talking about the F-word. No, not that F-word ... I’m talking about the word fat.”

Lighten up y'all

Willis continues in the book’s introduction about her lifelong struggle with weight, and growing up on made-from-scratch Southern food.

“Food and cooking have always given me incredible joy,” she writes. “Who doesn’t enjoy a good Southern-style feast?” Willis insists that Lighten Up, Y’all isn’t a diet, but a way of life—one that should include delicious food. As I sat down to read through the book, one recipe jumped out at me, for both the yum factor and the fact that the ingredients are some of Oklahoma’s most popular. Creamed Corn–Stuffed Tomatoes take advantage of our delicious local corn and heirloom tomatoes. Willis may swear by Yankee corn (she hasn’t had the chance to try some Oklahoma ears!) but she was gracious enough to share this recipe with Edible Tulsa readers. I hope you will try it, and pick up a copy of one of her books. I promise you will be smitten, both with Virginia and her cooking.

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