Local chef shows how $20 goes a long way

Local chef shows how $20 goes a long way
May 14
00:00 2015
(Above: Photos by Erin Mizelle for the Winston-Salem Chronicle- Award winning Chef Nikki Miller-Ka shows how to prepare a meal for just $20 using ingredients she buys that day at the Dixie Classic Fair Farmers Market. Photos by Erin Mizelle for the Winston-Salem Chronicle.)

Walking through the Dixie Classic Farmers Market you never know what you’re going to get, both in produce and attendees.

Among the different varieties of produce and the diverse attedees, you may be standing next to one of the region’s finest chefs trained in classical French cuisine.

She may be picking out produce for her next meal, and if you hang around long enough, you can see, and smell, the fruits of her labor.

That’s because Nikki Miller-Ka is back with the city’s $20 Challenge, in which Miller-Ka demonstrates to attendees how to stretch their bucks without sacrificing the quality of food made. Miller-Ka is a private chef, food blogger,  podcast host and food tour guide for Taste of Carolina Gourmet Food tours. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami. She said the idea for the challenge came from Winston-Salem Marketing and Communications Director Ed McNeal.

“He gave me the general idea, and I was like ‘OK I’m in.’ It wasn’t really a question. When we sat down and put out what we were going to do, I was thinking this is a huge project. In 2014 we did nine episodes; the second and fourth Saturday of the month,” Miller-Ka said. “When I first walked into the farmers market, I immediately started smiling. They had my name up, a whole table set-up with the mirror so that people could see, the camera crew was there and so was City Council.”

McNeal said the market was working to get a younger demographic to come out and that Nikki was just the person to do it.

“She’s one of the best food bloggers and social media people in our area. I knew that, being a Cordon Bleu trained chef, she had the food side for it and I knew that she has a wonderful personality to be able to get in there and meet new farmers and producers to make good television,” he said.

The concept behind the challenge is to prove that it’s possible to eat locally grown and healthy food while staying within a family’s grocery budget. Miller-Ka will cook the food she’s picked for a family of four using no more than $20 that day at the farmers market.

“I was thinking I better come up with something. I still feel like that, and this is year two, after doing our first episode. I walk in there blind. I make it up as I go and hope to the good Lord that it comes out good,” she said.

McNeal said that last year, the market saw an increase in young adults and young families coming out.

We saw times where people would come in to the market and they’d be looking around. They’d ask ‘Hey, where’s the show that I saw online? We give a lot of that credit to Nikki because she is that great figure that folks remember, and I think she engages them well,” he said.

The local chef said that she doesn’t typically cook foods that she doesn’t want to eat and keeps that, and her budget, in mind when shopping at the market.

“I get to the market at 8:30 a.m. and I see whose there and who has what. I have a little notebook and I write down what everyone has and for how much. I look at the quantity, quality and my budget. That’s how I determine what I’m going to buy,” Miller-Ka said.  “When I do decide I going to get this item from this person I tell them who I am, what I’m doing and ask them to put it aside for me so it doesn’t get gone.”

The challenge is held on the first Saturdays in May, June, August and September beginning at 10 a.m. and will be videotaped for WSTV and the city’s Youtube channel. Miller-Ka posts the recipes on her food blog,

It began May 2, with her cooking Inside Out Grilled Cheese sandwiches, five onion soup and salad greens with a french vinaigrette. Miller-Ka said that she typically has leftovers from anything she makes, once she decides exactly what she’s making. Because she never knows what will be at the market, she doesn’t really have a menu in advance.

“I just start buying things and hoping that it comes together. I hate that because I’m a planner but sometimes halfway through it just clicks. I get most of my inspiration from trade publications and magazines,” she said. “Looking at the pictures and words on the page help me think of what I want to do.”

Miller-Ka is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Winston-Salem Jaycees and Girl Scouts of the USA. For her, it’s her way of giving back. Along with volunteering her services at silent auctions and volunteering at a food bank to combat food insecurities.

“I feel like my name and my brand have power. I want to make my name and my brand more powerful by partnering with other brands and agencies to get the message across that food is for everyone.”

Which is one reason that the $20 Challenge is so important to her. It allows her to teach residents a lifeskill, or lifestyle for some, that fits their individual needs while stretching their dollars.

“This day and age it’s not about having an Andrew Jackson in your pocket. There’s people who are using SNAP benefits, EBT, seniors who are on a fixed income in our community,” Miller-Ka said. “Those are restrictions that you have no control over and you have to figure out what you’re going to do within those parameters. If someone like me can come in and show them how to make it work, then it benefits everyone.”

The Dixie Classic Farmers Market, established in 1974, is the oldest farmers market in Forsyth County, according to a media release. It’s open at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds every Saturday year-round from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Enter through the parking area off 27th Street.

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Chanel Davis

Chanel Davis

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