Diane Altman Leary

A Visit to MeMe’s Kitchen

November 2023 IssueDianeLeary1123 2

by Mary Hope Roseneau
Photography by Lindsay Gifford

I was so lucky to be invited to meet MeMe in person, the Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube star! Her formal name is Diane Altman Leary, and I caught up with her when she was visiting down in Okatie for the weekend with her daughter Katrina and son-in-law. Since she truly looks like a MeMe, I’ll just call her that, instead of Diane, or Mrs. Leary, and I know she won’t mind. She is a beautiful, petite lady in her 80s, with every hair in place, full makeup, and a cute pink top. Katrina looks like her mom, and they welcomed me in, of course, through the kitchen!

The appliances were all sparkling white, the counter free from clutter, as MeMe said she likes it, with flowers and pictures tastefully displayed. She mentioned Katrina had mopped the floor that morning, and it just sparkled. We sat neighborly-like at a bar with stools on both sides, so we could easily converse. I began with the question, “Just how many followers on Facebook do you have, MeMe?” Katrina grabbed her phone to supply all her platform answers: Facebook: 162,000; YouTube: 68,800; and Instagram, a whopping 220,000 followers! Gosh! And guess what started all this fame: The Pandemic!

MeMe has been cooking for family and friends all her life, and Sunday dinner at her house is a standing appointment. She usually has over 20 guests, and the only requirement is they go to church first. MeMe prepares the cold foods (salads, desserts) on Saturday, and then pops a huge casserole or some meat in the oven (“Always at 350 degrees, on the bottom rack!”) before church. When she gets home, she sets up a huge buffet, usually with one or two meats, four to five vegetables and side dishes, and always at least two or three desserts. It is a tremendous choice of foods, and when asked, how do you decide how much to cook, she said, when I run out of pots! Does the family help cook? “No,” she replies with a wink, “They have to clean up after.”

It was during the pandemic that two of her granddaughters, both in their 20s remarked that they didn’t know how to cook MeMe’s recipes, and could she please write them down for them. With everything on lockdown, she got busy and typed them into her computer, and made five looseleaf binders filled with recipes for Christmas that year. Then they asked her to make a video for them so they could follow along. The first video recipe was Macaroni and Cheese, a staple in most Southern homes, but not the one from the blue Kraft box. As she does with many recipes, she starts with the convenience of the box, but in this case, adds 4 eggs, whole milk, a pound of sharp cheddar cheese, and of course, butter. When it’s finished, it hardly resembles the humble boxed version.

The young people continued to ask her questions about how to make various dishes, despite the homemade cookbook, so one suggested, let’s make videos of MeMe cooking them, and post on Facebook! This is how her very popular shows on the internet were born, with MeMe taking one recipe from her cookbook and showing a novice cook exactly how you do it. Her daughter, Kaylene, is a pro with the camera (an iPhone, of course), and Katrina is now the shipping manager for MeMe’s professionally printed cookbook entitled Sunday Lunch at MeMe’s, which is not on Amazon, by the way. It came out in August 2021 and has sold more than 18,000 copies!

Her first video on Facebook, December 28, 2020, is a family favorite: “Divinity,” which just took off. The response from her many viewers astounded her, and many of them are young people, who did not grow up being taught how to cook for a family, seven days a week. “This was how we did it before all the fast food and take-out restaurants,” MeMe remarked. She has also made videos on how to preserve jellies, freeze corn, and what different size pots, pans, and dishes are good for. We are mostly visual learners, she explained, and you need to see “how” to cook and simplify everything for beginners.”

I asked her if she used new appliances like the Air Fryer, or Insta Pot, and she replied, “No.” She doesn’t like to clutter up her counter and most of her recipes are fried in a frying pan or put in the oven to bake (Always at 350 degrees, bottom rack, she and Katrina joke!)

Her favorite ingredient, hands down, is a stick of butter, pronounced “Budd-ah”. Many of her recipes start with melting a stick of butter. As a matter of fact, it’s the only thing she advises using a microwave for—melting your Budd-ah.

MeMe lost her husband a few years ago but has not slowed down a bit. She continues to work four days a week at Brookdale Anderson, an assisted living facility in Anderson, SC, as the receptionist. In addition to her two daughters, she has a son, Ken, and five grandchildren (Caroline, Mackenzie, Jackson, Hunter, and Graham), plus several great-grandchildren! She asks each child who has a birthday coming up to choose the menu or dessert for the following Sunday and can usually predict what they want.

MeMe feels she is a kitchen missionary and her spiritual gift is definitely hospitality. She sprinkles her cookbook with scripture verses and inspirational stories. She loves this new outreach by social media in getting to meet many folks across the world. She is proud of her Christian faith, and ends every episode, “Remember, Shine for Jesus!”

MeMe certainly does.

Up Close:

MeMe’s new Facebook videos (8-9 minutes) debut every Monday, and her page is “MeMe’s Recipes”. Her Instagram page is @memesrecipessc, and her YouTube channel is MeMe’s Kitchen Recipes.

Her cookbook, Sunday Lunch at MeMe’s can be ordered from her website: www.MeMesrecipessc.com. The price is $22.00, shipping included, and $1 of each purchase goes to a mission project.