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A Nashville chef reveals celebrity appetites

Dolly Parton likes to eat real down-home country food," says Mary Cornell with a smile.

Mary is co-proprietor of Take Away Catering, a Nashville-based company that includes some of country's top stars among its very satisfied clientele. "When I cooked lunch for her recently, Dolly wanted nothing fancy -- just meat loaf, fried okra and mashed potatoes.

"She loved it!"

And why not? What's not to love about traditional Southern comfort food?

Georgia native Trisha Yearwood, like Dolly, grew up with that kind of food and, according to Mary, is still "a meat-and-potatoes person. She also loves my cheesecake," grins the chef.

"But so many people -- stars included -- are on diets these days! They're all on the low-carb diet, and you really have to stick to that."

Mary, who likes to cook light and healthy anyway, tries to make it easy for them.

One artist who's found a way to be healthy and still eat well is Reba McEntire. She's a frequent diner and great fan of Mary's meals when Reba's California television shooting schedule allows trips back home to Tennessee. "Reba likes salads and grilled chicken, that sort of thing -- especially to take with her when she travels. "And we did a family dinner for her at her home this past Easter," recalls Mary. "Reba really likes a brisket," perhaps not surprising for a native Oklahoma girl. "But she likes it with a mango barbecue sauce," a special twist that makes a good dish an unforgettable one!

Another unforgettable offering whipped up by Mary and her cohorts was for a party following Wynonna's recent trip to Italy to film a documentary.

"We did a huge Italian antipasto spread at a local movie theater before the opening of the film -- lots of cheeses, Italian meats, olives and fried calamari," explains Mary. "We got great feedback that everyone, including Wynonna, was thoroughly impressed with the authenticity of the food we'd prepared."

Not a bad compliment, considering that Wy had just had the real thing in Italy.

Mary occasionally prepares "get away" baskets for Vince Gill and his beautiful wife, Amy Grant, so they can go to a little cabin for an evening to themselves. Vince's favorite item in the basket? Spiced pecans -- made with cinnamon, brown sugar and cayenne pepper.

"Knowing that artists enjoy eating the food we provide is absolutely the best part of my job," grins Mary.

And the talented chef is always ready to satisfy her clients. But she did miss out on another chance to cook for Dolly -- at least for now.

"We had been asked about doing a very traditional Southern Christmas dinner for Dolly last year," she notes, "but she wound up not staying in Nashville for Christmas so we didn't get to do it. Maybe next year."

Dolly, are you listening?

-- David Scarlett