A woman by the name of Felicia O’Dell has made quite a splash since uploading her first cooking show to YouTube. World Star Hip Hop calls it “the realest cooking show on the internet.” Within mere months her episodes went viral, reaching a combined total of more than four million views. Her specialty is cooking on a budget and she certainly knows how to stretch ingredients, control quantities, and cut corners. Her popularity has garnered attention from major networks; she’s even made appearances on The Steven Harvey Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live! Her fans affectionately call her Auntie Fee, pronounced “Ain’t Fee.”
Her delivery is swift, her tone sharp, and her language is completely foul. She’s got a short fuse and her son/cameraman Tavis knows which buttons to push to ignite the flame. During the tapings, he routinely questions her every move, talks back, and refuses to taste what she’s made. Their banter is, in short, hilarious. The frustration Auntie Fee expresses is from such a passionate place that you can’t help but laugh, partially from how uncomfortable it feels at first, but mainly because you know she doesn’t really mean it. Tavis just knows how to rile her up.
Her fame, however, hasn’t made her immune to criticism. She’s come under fire for taking, what some call unsanitary, short cuts in the kitchen. She uses an old can of Crisco for her frying grease, she reuses containers for seasonings and an assortment of other ingredients, and she’s probably most infamous for seasoning a bag of frozen chicken wings in her sink. People have been vocal about their love or hate for Auntie Fee and she’s not afraid to fire right back. She’s developed a unique dialogue with her viewers- she shouts them out when they’re positive and calls them out when they’re negative.
Her unconventional culinary point of view stands in refreshing opposition to what we so commonly see on television- an immaculately manicured chef in a pristine kitchen, using expensive machinery and exotic spices, executing an exquisite presentation. Her brand is more “down home.” While her kitchen is large, and her counter tops appear to be granite, she’s dressed modestly, usually in a blouse and slacks, or t-shirt and jeans, sometimes with an apron, sometimes without. She doesn’t measure. She isn’t afraid to make a mess. She uses whatever’s on hand. And, there isn’t any specific attention to detail- she does it from the heart. She cooks like most people probably would at home, occasionally messing something up, but it always comes out just fine.
The space she occupies is one worth exploring. It’s no secret, though most don’t connect the dots, that African-American women are the very backbone of American cuisine. It was African-American women who cooked and fed generations of white families during the very beginning of America’s rise to world power during slavery. It was African-American women who worked as domestics through the Civil Rights era and introduced American families to Southern-inspired soul food dishes and “down home” favorites that we all enjoy. However, the number of African-American women celebrity chefs doesn’t reflect this history. Perhaps because black women have made a turn toward some semblance of progress and wish not to revert to frying chicken in a hot kitchen for white consumption, visual or otherwise, but Auntie Fee stand boldly in this position, refusing to censor herself and do anything other than what she wants to do. She’s in control.
Auntie Fee, unlike Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben, exhibits a way of being that is almost revolutionary. She turns the stereotype of the genteel, long-suffering, saccharine stereotype of mammy into something real, confident, defiant, fierce, and passionate. In other words, Auntie Fee don’t give a F*CK! And we love her for that very reason. Here’s to hoping she and Tavis produce a holiday special. Carry on Auntie! Keep on keepin’ it real.