This Design Star: Next Gen winner on convenience cooking, why she can’t be vegan, and her own kitchen reno
Photographs by Chip Chockley
Local designer, lifestyle blogger, and Design Star: Next Gen winner Carmeon Hamilton invited us into her beautiful home in Countrywood and showed off her newly renovated kitchen while fielding cooking questions from us. (We’ve seen her home on the Internet, but wow—seeing it in real life is jaw dropping.)
As winner of Design Star, Carmeon gets her own show. At the time of our interview, she didn’t know the official name or the air date, but she could confirm a few things. “The concept and formulation is done. It’s being shot in Memphis. (That was a non-negotiable. I wanted to be with family and showcase Memphis.) We’re tentatively shooting in June and July. It’s focusing on making over spaces of renters. It will also be a docu-series on my life since winning. Right now is all show prep,” she told us. “I have a few external clients, but it’s the calm before the storm. I’m taking as much time to be normal and as stress-free as possible while I can.”
Design Star was shot from the end of October to the end of November 2020. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done—harder than childbirth,” she said. “Recovering from a competition—the anxiety and stress—took a long time. Most people didn’t even know I was gone. I had some content scheduled to post, so I didn’t completely disappear. Then when I got back, I couldn’t tell anyone I won for four months! It was worth it, but I wouldn’t ever do it again. I won it. Checked the box. Give me something else to learn.”
She says COVID completely changed the format of the show to have less drama, and be more design focused. The cast members stayed at a resort hotel together and became friends. “We weren’t allowed to be within six feet of anyone but each other and the camera guys,” said Carmeon. “We were all we had. We ate dinner together.”
Dinner? That’s our cue to start talking about food!
Edible Memphis: What is your first memory related to cooking?
Carmeon Hamilton: My grandmother made Sunday dinner every week. (She lived in Earle, Arkansas.) My favorite thing that she made was cornbread.
I loved it so much that she made me my own skillet.
And at age 12, I could eat half of it. My aunts cooked with her, and the recipes that I make from scratch come from them. My mom was too busy to make homemade meals! I enjoy other people’s food, and I love to go out to eat—but I only cook because we gotta stay alive.
What was your first food-related job?
My very first job was at the Big Star in West Memphis.
Are you from West Memphis?
Born and raised!
What was your position?
Cashier. I was16. It was all teenagers in there! My husband worked for Kroger for six years. That’s what moved us to Memphis.
What is your default thing to cook when you’re hungry and need to make something fast?
I’m the convenience queen.
It’s a popular topic on my Instagram. I showed the ingredients for something I was cooking that included frozen, chopped onions, and my Instagram blew up. I live and breathe frozen, cooked vegetables.
Lately I’ve had health issues that I’ve never had before and am on a high-fiber diet, so I do a lot of meal prep. My favorite is to recreate City Silo’s Hippie Scramble. It’s easy to make and then heat up. Now my husband eats it every day too. I also prep green smoothies.
But default and hungry? Lasagna. My friend who loves cooking and my friend who is a chef talk so bad about my lasagna, but it’s my son’s favorite. We don’t buy or cook meat at home. (We were vegan for awhile, but it didn’t work out.) Between frozen, chopped vegetables, oven ready noodles, and Quorn crumbles, I can whip one up in under an hour.
Tell us about being vegan.
I cannot give up my butter. Or cheese. Or sour cream.
For my twelve-year-old son, it’s milk. My husband and I can do without milk. On the rare occasion that I cook meat, it’s a smoked turkey neck to put in my grandmother’s beans.
Name an ingredient that you couldn’t live without.
Frozen, chopped whatever Kroger is selling in a bag. Onion or mirepoix. I use them in everything—lasagna, chili, quiche, soup—every single meal.
What’s your favorite indulgence?
My husband and I love going to Char. We ended up there by chance last year. We had reservations at Bishop, but power was out and it was getting dark so we had to leave. When we got to Char, we were like, “It’s our anniversary. Let’s order everything.” And so we did. And we go back often and order everything.
Is there one dish in particular that brings you back to Char?
The crab claws.
Sautéed, fried or half and half?
Sautéed. We did half and half once but were like, “No, all sautéed is the way to go.”
Name your favorite thing to do in the kitchen, or, your favorite part of the cooking process.
Plating. It’s the designer in me. I love the experience of presenting food to my husband and son.
Name your favorite kitchen tool or gadget.
My most recent favorite is my new Breville coffee maker. No matter when I wake up, I start my day with coffee. I have a whole coffee ritual now. The Breville makes espresso, and I add a pinch of salt and cardamom and a splash of brown sugar oat milk creamer.
Speaking of your kitchen, tell us about this renovation.
We redid the kitchen in September 2020. The biggest element was the new light and skylight. It totally transformed the feel and opened it up. The kitchen was original when we moved in six years ago. I painted the cabinets after about six months. We went the practical route and just repainted them again. Then we replaced the sink and faucet, added the walnut butcher block and backsplash.
Do you watch any cooking shows on TV?
I used to watch a lot of Food Network, but now I prefer to watch things like Nailed It! on Netflix. It’s pure comedy. I do not bake. It’s not my favorite—too much commitment and measuring.
Favorite place to shop locally for food?
Kroger. The specialized coupons get me.
What condiments are in your fridge right now?
Ketchup and mayo are a must for my son. Mustard and ground mustard for chickpea salad. Lots of salsa, sriracha, and oh—Garlic Expressions salad dressing. It’s so good for pasta salad and really any kind of salad.
Fruits and vegetables in your fridge right now?
Avocado, kale, spinach, and strawberries. Lots of lemons for cocktails. Always have to be prepared for cocktails.
Most embarrassing thing in the fridge?
Probably the Blue Apron orders that I got two weeks ago that I still haven’t made.
What’s in the freezer right now?
Always a frozen pizza of some sort for my son. Quorn chicken nuggets and spicy chicken patties. Always frozen fries, mirepoix. Smoothie prep stuff. I buy the same groceries every week.
Will you share a recipe with us?
Carmeon’s Green Smoothie
Makes one, but Carmeon suggests making a bunch.
Handful of kale
Handful of spinach
Palmful of chopped celery
A little bit of frozen peach and pineapple for sweetness
Freeze everything in a small Tupperware container. When you are ready to make the smoothie, thaw ingredients for 10 minutes before putting in the blender. Add about 1 cup of water and blend.
Optional: Sprinkle chia seeds on top for a nice presentation.