A woman of many feats, Phila Rawlings Hach won the June 2009 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance, sponsored by Food Arts, and the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by Catersource, was featured in the Emmy-award winning documentary, “The Rise of the Southern Biscuit,” received the 1953 Zenith Television for excellence in programming and was an honorary member of the 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles” at Fort Campbell.
“Phila had a really strong and important role in shaping our understanding of the South,” said John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and one the foremost restaurateurs and food-writers in the country. “She was an active shaper of ideas about what southern food is and what southern culture is.”
Hach earned a degree in music from Ward-Belmont College, then received her bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College in foods and nutrition in 1949, growing her culinary career. Hach completed these degrees while serving as a full-time flight attendant for American Airlines.
Attending classes Monday through Thursday and flying on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, she learned something everyday and broadened her horizons of cultural cuisines during layovers. During these layovers, she would pop into famous kitchens, such as the Savoy in London, the Georges V in Paris, the Tivoli in Copenhagen and the Sacher in Vienna. She also sat in on cooking classes at the University of Hawaii on several layovers, learning about the art of cooking Asian and Samoan dishes. While training flight attendants in Chicago, she attended the Antoinette Pope School of Fancy Cooking. During her tenure as a flight attendant, Hach remembers staying at the Prince George Hotel in New York for two years to write the first catering manual for the airline industry before flying to Paris for the weekend at the Georges V where she met her future husband, Adolf Hach.
Upon the arrival of television to Nashville in 1950, producers at WSM, per a recommendation from Peabody College, invited Hach to host a cooking show. She became the first woman to host a television show in the South, and her assistant, Martha Morman, was the first African-American to appear on television. Her 30-minute live Kitchen Kollege aired Monday through Friday from 1950 to 1956, sharing her table with guests including Minnie Pearl, Duncan Hines and June Carter Cash.
Together, Adolf and Phila moved to Clarksville, Tennessee in 1956, where she later opened a catering business and their first hospitality venture, Hachland Hill Inn.
In 1973, five days before his birthday, Hach lost her eldest son, Adolf Jr. Hach, who was born severely mentally and physically handicap in 1958. Diagnosed with throat cancer in 1969, Adolf received a laryngectomy and survived. Unfortunately, 15 years later, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died in 1985.
Hach authored 17 cookbooks in her career.
“Kountry Kooking,” published in 1974, was Opryland Hotel’s official cookbook for years. Country cooking is a craft that Hach considers herself an innovator of, distinguished as being unique to Tennessee and contrary to a generic Southern style or that of the coasts.
She published “600 International & Appalachian • Southern Recipes,” the official cookbook for the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was comprised of recipes she specially selected, compiled and edited herself. Its content came from her previous cookbooks, “Kitchen Kollege Copyright 1956,” “From Phila with Love Copyright 1973,” “Kountry Kooking Copyright 1974,” as well as “The United Nations Cookbook 1980.” Cracker Barrel carried the cookbook, and its successful sales delivered yet another knocking opportunity to her life’s always “open door.” Danny Evins, the founder of Cracker Barrel, contacted Phila with a proposal that would steer her career into the nineties. Explaining that Cracker Barrel had never manufactured a logotype item, Evins sought Hach’s authorship in his company’s first trademarked cookbook. By 1990, she had written three cookbooks for Cracker Barrel.
Given her celebrity status on account of her show and books’ popularity, she was asked by former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker asked prepare a special Tennessee luncheon for the historic United Nations visit to Nashville in 1976.
In 2005, Hach moved from Clarksville to Joelton, Tennessee, where she had launched two other business ventures two decades earlier while still living at Hachland Hill Inn. For 30 years in Joelton, Tennessee, she has run the corporate retreat, Hachland Hill Vineyard. Tucked away with vibrant green valleys, wooded trails and bountiful fields of blackberries, its remote wedding destination counterpart, Spring Creek Inn, is hidden below the hill on which the Vineyard sits.
“I’m home. Clarksville was home too, but not like Joelton,” Hach said in August 2015, months before her passing, “Those woods right now just call me beckoning. No matter where you roam in this world, there will always be something about those woods and going up that little creek, bedrock thousands of years old, squishing my toes between all the mosses. Unless the world comes to an end and the spring dries up, which it’s not, those woods are home.”
Phila’s long career took many turns, but serving guests and sharing her knowledge was always at the heart of her passion. Head to toe, always in her patchwork quilted apron and Birkenstock sandals with her white hair in a bun and eyebrows drawn high, she had a worldly inn keeper’s grace that transcended beyond guests’ expectancies and cultural perceptions.
In July 2014, Hach was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and given no more than two months to live if she opted against undergoing chemotherapy. Dr. Emily Chan, associate professor of medicine and a colon cancer expert at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, explained this was an advanced colon cancer that had already spread to Hach’s liver.
Upon Chan’s suggestion and with her family’s full support, Hach underwent chemotherapy at VICC. Chan said fit elderly patients should not be denied chemo.
At the appointment when she received the grim news, Hach’s response was a cheery “Marvelous.” Her son, Joe, leaned over to ask if she heard what the doctors said. Hard at hearing, Hach is, but she knew exactly what she was being told, and she couldn’t have cared less.
“I thought well here I’m going to have an experience for two months that I’ve never had the opportunity for. It wasn’t about me, it was about learning about cancer,” Hach said. “I never thought about me dying in two months. The hell with it, what’s the difference between two months and two weeks when you’re 89 years old. The little innocent children here with me at the hospital have it right, go ahead and play, and live through it.”
Sept. 3, Vanderbilt University Medical Center Reporter published an article, “Hach Shows Age Not Always a Barrier to Cancer Therapy,” accounting Hach’s apparent progress to affirm their belief that there is a differece between chronological age and physiological age.
A full year later than the two months that she was given to live in the original diagnosis, Hach discontinued her chemotherapy.
“Every time we get up in the morning, the day is already planned, the clouds are up there. It’s already planned and you can’t change one thing about it. You can only reject the day if it’s raining or you can absorb that rain,” Hach said. “I’ve learned not to reject anything, live with a free spirit and it’s a fun way to live. I have to die, because that’s the price of living eternally. I hope when I die that no one will ever shed a tear, because I’ve had the most unpredictable life. I hope no cries ever about my demise, because I’ve lived it to the hilt.”
On Dec. 5, 2015, Hach passed away at 89 years old.
“The pioneers were people like Phila Hach, who cobbled together a career doing multiple things very well, whether that was her work with the airlines, or her work writing books, or her work in television, or her work for the World’s Fair, or her work consulting,” Edge said. “She blazed a path that now others follow, and it’s important to remember who came before.”
Read about Hach’s lasting legacy in Jim Myers’ article, “Phila Rawlings Hach, grande dame of Southern cooking, dies,” that was published in the Tennessean shortly after her death.