Chapel Hill, N.C. — Tonya Council remembers cracking pecans in the kitchen with her grandmother.
At the age of 7 or 8, Council would sit with her grandmother and crack the nuts for use in pecan pies. She also learned the basics like making pie crust and flipping an egg. But she wasn't learning from just any cook.
Council is part of Southern food royalty. She is the granddaughter of Mildred Edna Cotton Council or as she is better known "Mama Dip."
After working at her grandmother's restaurant, Mama Dips, for more than 20 years, Council is making a name for herself in the baking world with her cookies.
And it all started in her grandmother's restaurant.
"I used to go into the kitchen in between waiting on tables and mix up stuff," Council said last week, coincidentally, in between waiting tables at Mama Dips.
She started out trying to make cookies that tasted just like her grandmother's famous pecan pie. After many attempts, she came up with a pecan crisp cookie - light and full of flavor.
In an hour, she sold four dozen cookies from the dessert case at Mama Dip's.
Council wanted to keep filling the case at the front of the restaurant, so she kept baking.
That was five years ago. Now, a regular at culinary and trade shows, Council is serving up several varieties of her crispy cookies - chocolate pecan, peppermint pecan and peanut brittle. All gluten-free.
Council didn't even know she was serving up gluten-free items until a customer pointed it out two years ago. Now, she is trying to develop a tasty gluten-free chocolate chip cookie to add to her repertoire.
Balancing her budding cookie business is difficult. Council is a manager and server at Mama Dip's six days a week. She finds time to bake before and after work and even uses the old Mama Dip's location as her base of operation.
As Mama Dip has told her, "You get out what you put in." And Council is all in.