Texas Book Festival
If you find yourself addressing comfort food queen Paula Deen, do not, under any circumstances, offer up kimchi rice grits as an acceptable substitute to the creamy Southern classic.
Chef Hugh Acheson learned this the hard way Sunday when he moderated a Texas Book Festival panel starring the Food Network diva. Roughly a thousand adoring fans packed the Paramount Theatre to listen to Deen gab about her newest cookbook, Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible, her roots in Southern cuisine and everything else on her oversized plate at the moment (including a clothing line and her newly released butter-flavored lip balm).
“Have you ever tried butter, salt and pepper?” Deen asked Acheson chidingly. “Throw a little cheese in and it’s a party.” Acheson blushed. The crowd roared with laughter and applause. They weren’t so keen on Acheson’s modern grits twist, either. Deen fans are, for the most part, meat-and-potatoes people.
So it's not surprising that Deen sparked from the moment she sauntered onto stage, complete with her signature ear-to-ear smile, voluminous silver hair, booming personality and potent Southern drawl. “Hey, y’all,” she crooned as the audience erupted into whistles, hoots and cheers.
It’s not an uncommon reaction for the 64-year-old celebrity chef, who has built an empire on her roots in traditional Southern cooking. After growing up in Albany, Georgia, Deen moved to Savannah at age 40, where she opened her first restaurant, The Lady and Sons, with sons Bobby and Jamie. (Deen plugged Bobby’s new cooking show, which debuts on the Cooking Channel in January and features healthier versions of her own recipes.)
After the restaurant’s popularity grew, Random House published Deen’s first cookbook, The Lady and Sons Savannah Country Cookbook, in 1988. Today, the author of 14 cookbooks appears on television and around the country to promote her lines of cookware, food products and restaurants, all of which embody a simple American lifestyle. Her newest book includes 300 traditional Southern recipes, including baked sweet potatoes with butter and brown sugar, pot pie and white cake with strawberry icing.
But the recipes aren't laden with just butter, fat and sugar, Deen insisted. “I think people have a misconception about the South,” she said. “They think people eat fried chicken and biscuits and gravy every day, but we don’t, y’all. We eat more vegetables than any other part of the country.”
So, how does she explain some of her more famous recipes, like her artery-clogging Krispy Kreme bread pudding? “I tell people, just one serving per lifetime, so pick your time,” she said with a chuckle.
Deen also suggested that her rich dishes are not meant to be eaten every day. “The food that I cook, you may only serve it on Sunday, but when you cook it, I want it to be as close to my Granny’s as it can be,” she said.
In the end, Deen said her cookbook honors the Southern tradition of enjoying food. “In the South, food is just how you show your love. If you die, someone in your family’s gonna get a pie.”
For more information about Paula Deen and to purchase her newest cookbook, Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible, visit pauladeen.com.