By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
Brenda Tynes has some mighty big shoes to fill. The Tupelo woman said her one desire is to keep people fed and happy, just like her aunt, Billie Joyce Witherspoon, who owned and operated T Culp & W’Spoon for years in Tupelo.
“It has been said many times by people who knew me and my family that I have a heart just like my aunt,” said Tynes, 50. “She is my inspiration. She passed away April 3, but I want to continue the legacy of my aunt by cooking and feeding others.”
So far, Tynes hasn’t done too badly. The Tupelo native left Mississippi in 1968 to move to California, but in 1988 she moved back home to work in the family business, the Harlem Grill. A year later, she was offered a job cooking lunch at Club 747 and The Palace.
“This led to my becoming the short-order cook on the weekend at Club 747/Palace, cooking pan trout, catfish, chicken wings, french fries and fried green tomatoes,” Tynes said. The club, which was located on South Gloster where the North Mississippi Hematology and Oncology clinic is now, was operated by Hosie Holomon Jr., who was also Tynes’ business partner.
In 1993, she went to work for Applebee’s and during her years there, she was a prep cook, a line cook and a corporate trainer. And finally, in 1999, she took a job as a chef at O’Charley’s Restaurant, where she is still employed today as a chef and the hospitality hostess.
“My love of cooking extends beyond my job,” Tynes said. “I serve on the kitchen committee at White Hill Missionary Baptist Church and I enjoy cooking for events and special occasions. I also like to prepare food for friends and family during illness and bereavement. When people I know are sick in the hospital, I don’t just cook for the one who is sick. I cook for the entire Critical Care Unit staff and their families. I enjoy cooking, and it makes me happy to know that others enjoy eating my food.”
Not everyone calls Tynes by her given name, Brenda. Some call her Dark and Lovely, or just Dark.
“My sister, who is 10 years older than me, is a light-toned woman,” Tynes said. “When we were kids, people used to call me the little dark thing. I told them, ‘My mother says I’m dark and lovely.’ And the name stuck. I went by that growing up and I go by that now.”
In fact, that’s the name embroidered on Tynes’ chef’s coat at O’Charley’s, where it’s clear she’s adored by customers and co-workers alike.
One day last week, Tynes prepared a big pan of baked chicken, two pans of chicken and dressing with gravy, a pan of cabbage and a skillet of cornbread and took it to work to share. Within minutes, as the word spread, Tynes was surrounded by smiling people holding out plates, bowls and Styrofoam to-go plates.
“I’ve got my co-workers spoiled and my boss, too,” she said. “If I come in here with a bag, they’re like little children – they want to know what’s in that bag.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to email@example.com.