POPLARVILLE, MS (WLOX) - Good southern cooking catapulted a Poplarville native into the national spotlight. Whitney Miller, 22, won the title of America's MasterChef Wednesday night. The restaurant owner beat out thousands of other contestants by impressing celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey and other judges on the Fox reality show. People in her hometown said her story is an inspiration.
Restaurant cook Ashton Smith said he loved every minute watching hometown favorite Whitney Miller compete.
"Not only was it intensive, I was on the edge of my seat going, 'Oh, Whitney, don't mess up. Don't mess up,'" said Smith. "It's just the fact that somebody from a small town like this can actually go and make her dream come true gives the hope for anybody who has a dream. They can go out and say, 'I can do this. Look at what she did.'"
Miller stepped up to the challenge and took the crown, making her proud Poplarville community very proud.
Kalyn Anderson is an owner of Deb's Restaurant and one of Miller's former high school classmates.
"She really put a good face on South Mississippi and us," Anderson said. "She represented us very well. She wasn't cussing or throwing a fit. She kept her cool and went with it and did what she was supposed to, and she executed. She did great!"
"I think that it has really kind of brought the town together," said Marsha Ladner, owner of the Silverado Restaurant. "[The show] kind of made people excited. I think it's wonderful. We're real proud of her."
Glaze is Whitney Miller's Cafe on Highway 11. Other area restaurant owners say Miller's upscale spin on Southern cuisine shows good food doesn't have to be expensive.
"I watch the Food Network all the time. They use these wonderful ingredients," said Anderson "Around Poplarville, Mississippi, it's hard to find those special little things, so you have to just kind of work with what you've got."
Anderson said she was especially proud of a dish that helped Miller win her crown.
"Her last one she did great. You know the creamed greens with the fried chicken. That's what we're all used to eating around here. She said, "Hey. This is what we're about.' And they loved it!"
Ladner said, "It will let people understand that it doesn't take the most expensive things to make something good and presentable and make people want to eat and come back."
The benefits from Miller's triumph could stretch to the whole town.
"I think it can help the local economy," Ladner said. "I think it's going to want people to come to Poplarville to see what's here, see what it's about, see where Whitney is from, know more about her. It's going to bring a lot more people to eat with me and her and everyone else. I think it's going to be a great thing."
Whitney Miller is a senior nutrition major at the University of Southern Mississippi. As the winner of America's MasterChef she receives $250,000 and a cookbook publishing deal.