By Paige Atwell
As a southern woman, Mee McCormick knows a thing or two about food. And as someone who suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto, Psoriasis, Celiac and Crohn’s disease, she knows even more about the affects it has on your body.
Growing up in the mountains of Appalachia with a mother who suffered from an autoimmune digestive disorder, Mee has always had a unique relationship with food. “My mother was a single parent and suffered an awful existence as she had Crohn’s disease,” explains Mee. “When she worked, we had food and when she was sick and hospitalized we all went hungry. My grandparents were the rock in my life and food was something we shared even when we had very little.”
At just eighteen years old, Mee lost her mother and two best friends in car accidents a week apart. Devastated but determined to live a “bigger life,” Mee moved to Maryland to live with her aunt and uncle, where she later enrolled at The University of Maryland. Two years later, she left again to attend F.I.T in New York City. “The plan was that I would work for a semester and enroll in the fall,” said Mee. “However, a job opportunity to assist a big-time television stylist in Los Angeles appeared and I moved to L.A. to live with a good friend from high school. I fell in love with the west coast and never returned to New York City.”
Years later, friends introduced her to her now husband Lee, and the rest was history. Or so she thought. After marrying her husband, Mee began severely struggling with her health. At her weakest, she weighed eighty-nine pounds and was unable to eat or drink anything without severe pain. After years of struggling, she was ultimately diagnosed with not one or two, but five different autoimmune diseases: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto, Psoriasis, Celiac and Crohn’s disease. “It took years to get a diagnosis,” explained Mee. “That’s the thing with autoimmune disorders–they affect everyone differently, therefore making them super difficult to diagnose.”
After her diagnosis, eating the proper food for her body continued to be a struggle. So, while living in Malibu she enrolled herself in an American and French classic culinary program. “I knew that there had to be many ways to wellness via food and if I could master the classics then I could swap the recipes,” explained Mee. “On top of my autoimmune diseases, I was diagnosed with food allergies, particularly dairy and of course Celiac which means no gluten. I was unable to eat any of the recipes I made in school. Classically trained chefs are not taught much about food allergies and the instructors are not interested in swapping ingredients.
So, I’d stop by the market and purchase alternative ingredients and once I got home I’d turn my kitchen into a laboratory - creating some insanely good food and some really not-so-good dishes too. At the moment I didn’t know it, but life was setting me up for who I would become in my Pinewood Kitchen.”
If Pinewood Kitchen doesn’t ring a bell, it’s probably because it’s about an hour outside of Williamson County. When Mee later moved to Nashville with her husband and family, he surprised her by purchasing The Pinewood General Store in Nunnelly, Tennessee in hopes of turning it into a restaurant. The Pinewood Store has been a hub of the Pinewood community since the 1920s. The original store was located on the farm that sits across the road in the 1800s. Pinewood Farms was originally known as Pinewood Plantation, founded by Samuel Graham in the 1850s. Mr. Graham believed in the equality of all men and didn’t believe in slavery; therefore he had his own Pinewood Dollars so he could pay everyone.
“I am truly a reluctant restaurateur,” says Mee. “I never dreamed of having my own place. I didn’t know if I had the physical stamina for it or the ability to lead a team. I didn’t become a chef from a place of ego or identity. I became a chef to save my life. Lee believed in me and his faith guided me to lead. I view myself as a steward of Pinewood. It’s truly my service and converting the old general store into a table on the farm has been a major blessing in many ways.”
Warmth, Kindness, compassion, inclusivity and deliciousness are just a few things Mee says diners can expect from Pinewood Kitchen. She describes the menu as “southern classics with a wellness twist.” Given her own diet restrictions, Mee ensures that the Pinewood kitchen is accommodating to almost all food allergies without sacrificing quality and taste.
While it might not be the closest restaurant, it’s certainly one-of- a-kind. As Mee likes to say, “Pinewood Kitchen isn’t just farm to table, it’s a table on the farm.” Those who visit Pinewood Kitchen are not only getting a unique dining experience, but they’re also not sacrificing their health.
“Almost everything is grown on our farm free of pesticides and chemicals, our livestock is raised with compassion, hormone and grain free,” explains Mee. “Southern grown produce and fruits are the healthiest in the world - they are naturally so very good for us. It’s the preparation that changes the game.”
Speaking of ingredients, there’s one that Mee insists can’t be left out from any dish. “I’m from the mountains where the people are playful, warm, generous and humble. These are the ingredients that create the best recipes for happiness. I fold them into everything I create. They are requirements to work in Pinewood and can’t be left out when serving others.”
Continuing her mission to serve others and help them with their health, Mee wrote her first book “My Kitchen Cure,” six years ago. After selling over 20,000 copies through Amazon Create Space, she made a deal with HCI publishers and Simon & Schuster to distribute her newest book, “My Pinewood Kitchen: A Southern Culinary Cure.”
“It’s all about Pinewood and how it has shifted my relationship with food once again,” explains Mee. “I also write a bit about the microbiome and our gut health. There are over 130 recipes and each recipe shows how it can be adapted for keto, paleo, vegan and gluten free, because in Pinewood Kitchen that’s exactly what we do.”
And Mee isn’t slowing down any time soon. In fact, she just signed another book deal and is in the process of opening a bakery in Pinewood within the next few months. And truth be told, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’d always thought I had to live in BIG places to do BIG things,” said Mee. “but in truth Pinewood is the tiniest place I’ve ever lived and the most valuable work I’ve done has happened there – having a family, a farm and Pinewood Kitchen.”
To learn more about Pinewood Kitchen and to plan your visit, go to pinewoodkitchenandmercantile.com.