Restaurateur Dahlia Winder traded in her life of corporate comfort in 1984 for a chance to explore her culinary creativity and taste buds across the country have applauded her decision ever since. The road to Winder’s success began when she open her one-woman food stand in Philadelphia’s historic Reading Terminal Market. Today, she employs more than 60 people who work in six Delilah’s Southern Cuisine stands. But it wasn’t until Oprah Winfrey tasted Winder’s Mac and cheese that the nation and world were alerted to one of Philly’s longtime treats. Winder’s debut cookbook, “Everyday Soul: Southern Cooking With Style” (Running Press Book, $29.95) documents her lifelong love affair with food.
“Everyday Soul” is much more than a book of recipes as it reflects the duel identity Winder had growing up in both the South and the North. It reads almost like a biography, as it is interspersed with color photographs recalling Winder’s life from childhood summers in Richmond, VA to entrepreneurial success in Philadelphia. From the book’s opening image of Miss Delilah Winder sassily strutting through Old City Philadelphia to the delectable photos of her signature recipes, each image portrays the passion that Winder’s hip and colorful spirit brings to life and food. Delilah’s food has received numerous accolades, including 100 Favorite Foods by Saveur Magazine and Best of Philly, but it was the Best Mac & Cheese declaration by Oprah Winfrey that brought Winder national recognition.
An entire chapter in Everyday Soulis devoted to Winder’s Oprah appearance and describes everything from the initial call from the Harpo headquarters to Winfrey’s final pronouncement. Winder’s signature hands on approach were pivotal in her recipe being personally delivered to Chicago for Winfrey literally hot out the oven. “The experience catapulted me from a local to a national stage,” noted Winder. “And my life as a cook and restaurateur was forever changed.”
The recipes in Delilah’s Everyday Soul are arranged by occasion and accented with special memories, tips, and suggestions for preparing and serving. They feature traditional soul food like Delilah’s delectable fried chicken and strawberry lemonade, and also include more modern renditions of the fare, plus alternative ingredients for those who want to try healthier versions of the spectacular recipes.
“I eat everything,” says Winder. “I don’t exclude anything from my diet. I eat all types of food. I love all different ethnic, because, you see, I’m a people person and I believe everybody has something to offer.” She also maintains an active lifestyle which also keeps her in shape and supplements her workouts. “It’s all about being active and eating a well balance diet,” explained Winder. “I’m up. I’m cleaning my house. I’m cooking. I’m going grocery shopping. I’m in movement.”
Winder’s was appointed earlier this year as chairwoman of the African-American Chamber of Commerce, succeeding A. Bruce Crawley as the point person in representing African-American business interests in the city. She says she intends to share what she’s learned as a successful business person with others like herself. “What I can do is give whatever I have got, or whatever I have experienced, to another African American business person which I feel could help them.”
When asked what lies ahead for her professionally, Winder coyly suggests the “possibility” of a television show. What she’s really planning for is a long overdue expansion of Bluezette’s current offerings. When she opened Bluezette in Philadelphia’s Old City district in 2000, her Latin, Caribbean, and soul food restaurant become an instant hit as the go-to cocktail destination for the after work business set. Now, Winder says, it’s time for an update.
“Bluezette is going to become a restaurant just like every thing else I have. We’re going to have lunch and dinner and on the weekends we’re going to have lunch and brunch. I’ll probably make a few changes interior wise,” explained Winder. “And I need all of Philadelphia to put their arms around that for Bluezette to continue to be what I wanted it to be: A restaurant.”
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