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Mazie Miller: Underneath the Apron

Published:Saturday | May 9, 2015 | 11:01 PMJody-Anne Lawrence

Mazie Miller: Underneath the apron

Every Tuesday and Thursday countless living rooms across Jamaica were intoxicated with the aromas people could almost smell through their television set as they tuned in to Mazie Miller on Creative Cooking.

Miller was the lovable aunt, mother or grandmother who showed us our way around the kitchen, creating delicious cost-effective meals using Grace products.

Miller was raised by her grandparents Dorris and Samuel Pottinger in a district called Tydixon in western St Catherine. She described her childhood as "something money can't buy". She still had a close relationship with her parents, however, her childhood was filled with fond memories of her grandmother. "She made the best sweet potato pudding that I ever tasted," Miller tells Outlook with her eyes closed as if she could still taste it. However, one of her fondest childhood experiences, was the preparation of the cocoa for cocoa tea.

"We would dry and parch them in a big Dutch pot, then beat them in a mortar. We would add cinnamon powder and nutmeg and beat it until it was smooth, then shape them either round or like logs, then put them on green banana leaves to dry," she recalled with a smile, but it was reminiscing about the taste that seemed to take her deep into the recesses of her childhood memory. With eyes closed, she recalled, "When you grate that and sweeten it and drink that cocoa from an enamel cup - nothing beats it." This was a Christmas morning staple for her.

It was these experiences that introduced Miller to the art of cooking. Her grandmother was always cooking something. When her grandfather would kill a pig or they would get beef, it was up to her grandmother to cook the meals and Miller would both observe and assist.

From these experiences, she developed a love for food, so it was no surprise when, after completing St Catherine High School, Miller went on to do a diploma in home economics at the Jamaica School of Agriculture and then at the University of Technology, where she did a certificate programme in baking technology. She later did her bachelor's in agriculture and food systems management, which was a joint programme between CASE (College of Agriculture, Science and Education) and Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Canada.

She noted that being raised on a farm was something that helped her when she went to study agriculture - from the milking of the goats and cows to the gardening, which she got to put into effect when she was a member of the 4-H Club.

But her relationship with 4-H did not end there. She worked with the Jamaica 4H Club managing three of their training centres - Denbigh, Rose Hall in Linstead, and Charlottenburg in Highgate, St Mary.

After eight years, it was time to start a new chapter - but she never knew it was one that would change her life forever. In 1986, at the age of 32, Miller joined the team at GraceKennedy Group, specifically Grace Kitchens in the Dairy Industries section. She was a member of a team that had to develop new recipes with cheese.

Initially, Miller was part of a team of other chefs conducting cooking demonstrations for schools, churches, youth groups, and other small groups. This was the part of the job that Miller loved the most.

"I just loved the people. Building that relationship with the audience was something that I enjoyed. We gave them our numbers so that they could call us at anytime if there was a recipe that was giving them some trouble."

One year later, it was time to take on television. And, while she had a lot of experience doing cooking demonstrations, being on television was an entirely different thing for her.

"I knew the content, but I was a nervous wreck," she told Outlook about her first time before the camera. At no point did she expect that today it would be as popular as it is. GraceKennedy did not only open up the door, but they helped her keep that door open. They sent her back to school to be certified as an executive chef at Culinary Institute of America New York.

Home

Miller is not all work. She did what many women have to learn to do - manage two jobs: a family, and a nine-to-five. She was mother to five children, two of which are her stepchildren.

"I had to make time for them as any parent would. But they had a supportive and helpful father who was always there," she told Outlook.

What's next?

After 29 years at GraceKennedy, Miller has officially retired. However, that is only on paper. "Let's call it phase two," she told Outlook with a smile. She still works part-time with GraceKennedy doing demonstrations as well as television and radio presentations.

Miller loves to teach and notes that, during her retirement, it might be something that she will do for as long as she can.

With that in mind, her advice to young people is: "A good education is your only way out of poverty and even having one skill competence is important. Skills pay the bills."