Culinary pioneer, early TV cook Phila Hach dies at 89

Phila Hach (FYLAH HA’), a culinary pioneer from Tennessee who had the first televised cooking show in the South, has died.

Her son, Joe Hach, said she died Wednesday at age 89.

The Tennessean reports Hach starred on WSM-TVs “Kitchen Kollege” from 1950 to 1956. Later, she worked as a restaurateur, caterer and innkeeper in Clarksville and the rural Nashville suburb of Joelton.

Phila Rawlings Hach famously smuggled mint juleps to a 1976 luncheon she catered for 1,700 United Nations members and dignitaries at Nashville’s Centennial Park, where alcohol isn’t permitted. Hach used state troopers to ferry Jack Daniel’s whiskey from Lynchburg to Nashville, then mixed the drinks at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in the middle of the night, storing them in the freezer.

In October, Hach was honored by the Southern Foodways Alliance with the Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame award.

In a short film made for the group, Hach talks about the luncheon, saying she prepared barbecue, turnip greens and corn on the cob.

“It was just like cooking for my family, except that I was cooking for 1,700 people, and their bodyguards,” she said.

She called her television cooking show “such fun and such a fiasco.” As an example, she said General Electric once sent her an electric mixer. She had only ever used a hand mixer. She turned the electric mixer on and put it in a bowl of egg whites.

“There were egg whites all over the kitchen,” she said. “It was just funny. They thought it was supposed to be funny.”

Hach started her inn in Clarksville with her now-deceased husband Adolph Hach out of necessity after they spent all of his money on a yearlong honeymoon. She later sold the inn but continued operating a retreat center in Joelton with her son until her death.

In 2012, she partnered with Nashville’s International Center for Empowerment to help Kurdish refugees from Iran and Iraq learn the food business.

Hach later said that the experience was “the most powerful summer I’ve ever spent in my life.”

Hach published 17 cookbooks, including the first books for the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain, “Kounty Kooking” for the Opryland USA theme park and the official cookbook of the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville.

“Phila Hach was among the most dynamic people I’ve ever met,” Southern Foodways Director John T. Edge said. “Her long life was a showcase of the South’s better instincts.”

In a 2008 interview, Hach said of herself, “I’m just intoxicated with life. I believe in Santa Claus. I believe in life, and goodness, and everything.”