Food & Drink

In the Kitchen With: Donna Hamilton

Cooking in a renovated ’50s space gives Donna Hamilton purpose.

With its wicker baskets, comfy couches, and piles of pine cones, Donna Hamilton’s Dickeysville home is warm, homey, and casual—a real reflection of the WBAL-TV anchor herself. “I can’t afford ostentatious,” she says with a laugh.

In December 2010, when Hamilton got ready to renovate her 1954 kitchen (think faux brick linoleum, Formica cabinets, floral wallpaper), she wanted to modernize, but she also tried to stay true to the legacy of the cottage-style house. “I wanted the kitchen to feel calm and contemporary,” says Hamilton. “Something soothing—just a pleasant place to spend time.”

Mission accomplished. The new space is a study in contrasts: Warm maple cabinetry is a counterpoint to cool surfaces (granite countertops and white subway tiles); vintage accessories (a corner cabinet, a collection of antique print pattern blocks) offset state-of–the-art, stainless-steel appliances (Bosch dishwasher, Jenn-Air oven); and country-inspired kitchenware keeps company with minimalist modern lighting. “This is not a showcase kitchen,” says Hamilton. “It’s a pretty kitchen, but it doesn’t have the best of everything, and I didn’t need anyone to design it. I’d been thinking about it for 30 freakin’ years!”

Even before the picture-perfect renovation, Hamilton’s kitchen has always been the heart of the home she shares with her husband, David, and where her children, Cada and Jesse—now grown and gone—stop by for home-cooked meals. “I love cooking because it’s a very sane and necessary activity,” says Hamilton, whose specialties include paella and shrimp and grits. “There’s a reason you cook. There are a lot of things we do in our job or the world that are not all that necessary, and they are not all that sane, but cooking is a thing with a purpose.”

Growing up in Birmingham, AL, Hamilton soon found herself in the family kitchen. “I really started to cook when my mom went back to work as my older sister went to college,” explains Hamilton, the middle child of three girls. “As the next oldest child, it was my responsibility to get dinner started.” Her mother, Mary Grace, was a simple Southern cook, whose specialties included fried okra, squash casserole, and cornbread. “My mother wasn’t a fancy cook,” says Hamilton. “But she was a good cook who never followed a recipe—and I’m a little like that. I like to cook in a more freewheeling way.”

Out of the kitchen, Hamilton has been equally unpredictable. “Everything that has happened to me has just come to me. None of it was planned,” she says. On a lark, after a brief modeling stint, Hamilton auditioned for a long-running Birmingham TV program, The Tom York Morning Show, in the late ’70s. “I don’t even know where I got the courage,” she says. “When I was growing up, it was pretty is as pretty does.”

Initially, Hamilton didn’t get the job, but went to work for the show’s programming director, eventually becoming York’s co-host. She moved to Baltimore in 1981 to host Evening Magazine, a local news and entertainment show. When the program ended in 1990, she appeared on The Learning Channel’s Great Country Inns. “I was looking for other ways to make money,” says Hamilton, “and decided to do a cookbook—Donna Hamilton’s Gracious Country Inns and Favorite Recipes—in conjunction with the show.”

Both in the kitchen and behind the anchor desk, Hamilton has found her calling. “I love what I do,” she says, “and I guess journalism is a lot like cooking. A little bit of this and a little bit of that goes for both. When you put together a story, you have all these pictures and all these sound bites, and you have to make it into a recipe or a story. You have to start and finish it. It’s making something from nothing.”