Phila Rawlings Hach
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Phila Rawlings Hach

Betty Fussell / June 2009

Food Arts presents the June 2009 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Phila Rawlings Hach, who for over half a century has pioneered Southern hospitality and cuisine through her combined careers as chef/caterer, innkeeper, cookbook author, airlines caterer, and early television star. What the Grand Ole Opry did for country music, she has done for Southern food, spreading the gospel of simple country cooking in a seductive Tennessee voice that has drawn the world to Nashville.

Born there 82 years ago, she still sleeps no more than her customary four hours a night, which gives her time to play with her dogs and "embrace the dawn" before firing the ovens for the food she learned how to cook from her mother, along with "how to embrace life with dignity and tenderness." "Embrace" is a word she uses often, connecting her grits soufflé to a way of life.

In the 1940s, she embraced her job as flight attendant for American Airlines by developing the first catering menu and procedures for the growing airlines industry. Today, she still caters more than 30,000 meals a year for the military planes that fly from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

In 1950, while maintaining her flight attendant job on the weekends, she inaugurated a half-hour live television show called Kitchen Kollege. She was not only the first woman on TV in the South—and her assistant, Miss Martha, the first black woman—but the pair staged the show five days a week for the next five years.

Her more than 14 cookbooks reflect the same connection of local to global that she brought to television. In the 1960s she originated the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store series of cookbooks, went on to write Plantation Recipes and Kountry Kooking, the 1982 Offi­cial World's Fair Cookbook, and Phila Hach's United Nations Cookbook.

Flying to Paris one weekend, she met a German-American, Adolph Hach (pronounced Hah), an ex-Marine turned tobacco exporter. Married in 1956, they traveled the world for a year, then opened an inn in Clarksville, Tennessee, named it Hachland Hall Bed & Breakfast, and brought the world to them. Over the decades, her celebrated Sunday Night Supper table drew celebrities as unalike as Duncan Hines, Henry Kissinger, and Oprah Winfrey.

She continues to embrace the world's diversity and its magnitude at Hachland Hill Vineyard Corporate Retreat, which she now runs with her son, Joe, in the country just outside Nashville. On 100 acres at Joelton, in a complex that includes inns, a wedding chapel, and conference center, she can serve up to 1,500 guests. Numbers don't phase her. Every day she bakes her beloved sugar biscuits, twice a day her water rolls, and for 52 years has baked four pies a day, which comes to something like 76,000 pies. "I'm as enthusiastic about food today," she says, "as I was when at age two I began to decorate my little mud pies with a daisy or a clover blossom out of the field."