Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An Evening with Paula Deen

Last Thursday evening, my sweetheart of a son treated his new wife of 2 weeks and me to an incredible evening of food and fun with Paula Deen. Paula's appearance was sponsored by Publix and Smithfield. Earlier in the day, Paula and her husband, Michael, donated on behalf of Smithfield 35,000 pounds of protein to the Jacksonville Food Bank. Smithfield is doing the same for 32 other cities around the country this year.

Anna and I arrived downtown at the new Jacksonville Public Library just in time to avoid a torrential late afternoon thunderstorm. The library is beautiful - more like an upscale bookstore than the libraries of my school years. I was very impressed. I know it is a great asset to the city. After about a 30 minute wait in line, we were given our numbers for the book signing and allowed to browse through Paula's books and purchase one we wanted to have signed.  Anna and I both chose Paula Deen's Savannah Style. It's a beautiful, coffee table style book showing amazing home interiors in and around the Savannah area. There are quite a few photos of some of the rooms in Paula's house. No recipes in this one just in case you wanted to know.  I think I have all of her cookbooks anyway. Once we purchased our books, we were treated to dinner courtesy of Publix. Publix's Apron chefs had prepared about 14 or 15 of Paula's recipes for us to sample. We had everything from Paula's South Georgia Caviar, Pickled Okra Sandwiches (my favorite), Vidalia Onion Pie to Red Velvet Bread Pudding and a lot in between! And we were given all the recipes as well - packed in to our re-usable Publix gift bag.  During dinner, the book signing numbers were called by group. We were halfway through the dinner line when our number was called - and we were hungry too!

Paula is as beautiful in person as the woman we see on tv. Her blue eyes are something else! She was dressed just like one of us - linen pants and top with a yellow shell with sequins - and flip flops! Michael was signing books along side her. He was casually dressed as well - shorts and sneakers. There was no time to speak with her other than to say hello and keep moving down the table. Her assistant kept the line moving. I think he must have had a previous career as a bouncer at a nightclub. He had that look about him - and the physique to match.

After the signing, we made our way back to the table, finished our dinner and dessert and had a nice conversation with Patrick Whalley, head chef at the Publix Aprons Cooking School in Jacksonville. I think Anna and I decided on the spot to make sure we take a class or classes from Patrick. 

After dinner, we proceeded to the beautiful new auditorium for a cooking demonstration by Tom Gray, chef/owner of Bistro Aix. He prepared what looked to be a delicious dish of gazpacho soup, polenta, and shrimp. Even though we had great seats on the second row, we weren't lucky enough to get some of the samples that were passed around the audience.

Tom was the opening act for Paula. She performed what amounted to a one hour stand-up comedy routine. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time - my cheeks were hurting. Michael and Patrick Whalley from Publix actually did the cooking - jambalaya and a chocolate gooey cake. Paula said we could see her on the Food Network three times a day if we wanted to see her cook. Her humor is very self-deprecating. Michael was right in there with her, telling stories about Paula and himself. It's hard to imagine that Paula ever suffered with agoraphobia. She was completely comfortable on stage and had no problem whipping out the breast enhancer from her bra. It would take way too long to tell you why that was part of her talk. She did step behind the curtain and put it back in, however. 

Unfortunately the evening had to come to an end. Paula went 30 minutes over her alloted time so I can't complain too much. Anna and I had so much fun and came away from the evening with new recipes and plans for some fun cooking classes. I was genuinely impressed with Paula. It is just amazing to see how she has changed her life in so many ways and still remained that girl from a small town in south Georgia. If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of her events, don't hesitate! We had so much fun - thanks Andrew!


  1. I am envious. I love Paula Deen and have some of the cookbooks as well. Your description of your evening was delightful and sounds like so much fun. I felt like I was there. My family loves the Corn Chowder from one of her cookbooks. It is to die for.

    Your bride is looking very good. You are ahead of me but I am looking forward to the ribbon technique. It definitely has the "wow" factor

    Sue VanderNoor

  2. Sue, you'll have fun with the ribbon technique. I practiced it first in a corner of the canvas before actually stitching it on Bridezilla. It's really very easy.

    Paula was a hoot and a half. I laugh just thinking about how Michael tells her she's so pretty every time she says something foolish - as in the time she was in Chicago to be on Oprah's show and thought that Lake Michigan was the Atlantic Ocean. Instead of pointing out her mistakes, he just tells her she's so pretty. They make a great couple.