That’s Rosie Mayes saying hello. Fans of her soul-food cooking videos know how expansively welcoming she sounds, inviting viewers into her kitchen.
Mayes, a Seattle native with Southern roots, has drawn in around a half-million YouTube subscribers, a half-million Facebook fans and sundry other stacks of social media followers with her “I Heart Recipes” posts. Now she’s got a cookbook (“I Heart Soul Food,” Sasquatch Books, $24.95) offering the same charm and kitchen confidence for an audience hungry for oxtail stew, hush puppies, red velvet cake and other comfort-food standards. (Mayes will talk about the book with local cookbook author Danielle Kartes at 5 p.m. Oct. 22 in a free virtual author talk through The Book Larder. Register here.)
Mayes means her greetings semi-literally, whether she’s calling viewers family or friends.
“I was always in the kitchen with my mother and aunts,” she says in a recent phone call. She was one of the oldest girl cousins in a big Seattle family, the Hendersons. Her own mother is one of 18 children — “Yeah, you read that right. … That’s why I’ve got so many aunts that made sure I knew how to cook!” she writes in the book.
Mayes played in the kitchen of the Capitol Hill nursing home where her mother and aunts worked, learning young that, “Biscuit dough is the best toy.” Then at age 12, when her mother switched to night shifts, Mayes took over making dinner for the family.
Such family recipes are what a big chunk of her viewers are seeking out, reaching for memories or long-lost traditions.
“Omg Rosie you just made me cry in the best way possible. This is the cake my mom made when I was growing up,” commented one fan on Mayes’ scratch-made “Sock It To Me” cake. “Damn rosie your husband should be kissing your feet,” wrote another about the same recipe. (It’s not in the book, but it’s online.)
Salmon and other Seattle standards sneak into her recipes, along with Creole seasoning (she recommends Tony Chachere’s blend, though she’d like her own spice line some day) and self-rising flour. Some conversations are extra-relatable for local viewers, too — even those without Louisiana-born grandparents, nodding at her memories of seafood brunch at Salty’s on Alki, or sympathizing with the difficulty of finding a great po-boy in the Northwest.
For beginning cooks, she recommends her easy slow-cooker recipes — that’s what she started out with for her own son, now 13 — but her repertoire also includes plenty of more advanced options, like deep-frying. She’s strict when it comes to a thorough, time-consuming cleaning for greens. “(I)t’s essential, so don’t try to find a way around it,” she writes.
While Mayes always loved to cook, she took a roundabout path to a kitchen career. She went from Garfield High School and John Marshall High School to Seattle’s Job Corps program, where she originally planned to study culinary arts. But, “They were doing simple things … things I was doing my whole life,” she says. It seemed like a waste of time.
She opted instead for training as a certified nursing assistant. Her mother was a nurse, and she knew there were always jobs in the field.
She loved the work in a lot of ways, and was completing prerequisites to move on to nursing school. But there was a flip side.
“I’m a people person. I get attached to people,” she says. Specializing in end-of-life care, working especially with patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and AIDS, took a heavy emotional toll over the years.
Creating videos became her creative outlet between work and school — first focusing on makeup, then cooking.
People liked her budget-friendly focus to start with, then started requesting more and more soul food. “It wasn’t an overnight success,” she says — but it was definitely a success. She started recording relatives in the kitchen as an education, teaching herself to re-create recipes she hadn’t already known, and developing new ones. Companies reached out to collaborate on campaigns.
By 2014, the cooking channel became her full-time job. She still films it in her own kitchen, both the simplest route and the most authentic one.
For a time, she worked with a management company, but didn’t like the limits that placed on expressing her personality, and returned to working on her own.
“I started talking to, as I say, my cousins, like they were my cousins. Like they were in my kitchen, like I was showing them to do a recipe they wanted. I do feel like I’m talking to friends and family members instead of a camera.
“I’m a jokester. I’m a clown. I always have been. I tend to be loud, and I’m always, I guess, the life of the party.”
It’s a lot of fun, even on the page, to be invited in.
Baked Candied Yams
Makes 6 to 8 servings
5 medium yams, washed, peeled and sliced about 1/2-inch thick
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, arrange the yams.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, sprinkle in the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Turn the heat off, mix the ingredients, add in the vanilla and stir.
4. Pour the candied mixture over the yams, and coat them thoroughly. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the yams from the oven, and baste them with the candied mixture in the dish. Then cover the yams again, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Remove the yams from the oven, and let them sit for about 10 minutes. Baste them again with the candied mixture before serving.
From “I Heart Soul Food” by Rosie Mayes