PALM BEACH, Fla. — Paula Deen is amazed at the enthusiastic fans that greet her at every stop on a national book tour for her newest cookbook, "Paula Deen Celebrates!" (Simon & Schuster, $26).
"I'm just overwhelmed. I asked Michael what he thought the reason for it was," Deen said, referring to her spouse, Michael Groover, who is traveling with her. "He said — and this is his opinion — 'These people know you're real. They can see right through the fakes.' "
Deen's real, all right. She'll tell things on herself, as well as others, and laughs with pure glee while spilling her guts. She's unaffected and makes no apologies for "home cooking that tastes good." She uses butter, bacon and sugar in many of her recipes. There's a can of Campbell's cheddar cheese soup in her creamy macaroni and cheese.
She doesn't forget the hard road behind her and is grateful for a suddenly successful and happy, though frenetic, life.
Deen, star of the Food Network's "Paula's Home Cooking" and "Paula's Party," started this wild ride by packing up for Savannah, Ga., with $200 and two young boys, after a divorce. She built a catering business by making sandwiches to sell to downtown business people that drew raves and calls for party foods. She then opened The Lady and Sons, a tiny restaurant in a Best Western hotel, garnering critical media praise.
She moved the restaurant to downtown Savannah in 1995, and, thanks to the TV exposure, a magazine and numerous cookbooks, it's now booked months in advance, and Deen is in demand for appearances and book signings. Her adult sons, Jamie and Bobby, cook with her and have their own Food Network show, "Road Tasted."
We caught up with Deen at the Brazilian Court hotel in Palm Beach before an area book signing. She shared tips on holiday entertaining, showed us a photo of her 3-month-old "grandbaby Jack" (the love of her life, other than Groover, whom she married in 2004). And in her thick-as-molasses Georgia accent, she tossed off a hilarious snuff of the hotel's grits — and more.
"I'm so sorry I'm late. Once you get to this age, it takes longer and longer to pull yourself together."
Q: (Pointing at her red-and-green rhinestone-framed glasses): You look great! Your glasses are fun — so festive for the holidays.
A: I wear them every day. I'm coming out with a line of eyewear. You know, once you get to a certain age and have certain hair and are a certain weight, a girl's got to stand out in other ways — with your glasses, earrings and shoes. So I wear these.
Q: Forgive my manners; did you want coffee?
A: Oh, no, thank you. We've already been down and done breakfast. I've had so many diet sodas, I'm going to wet my britches. We had some way funky grits — we didn't eat them. I don't think they were really even grits. Not like any grits I've ever had, anyway. All the other food we had was pretty good, though.
Q: How are you dealing with all your projects and the fans who want to talk to you?
A: I have to tell you: It's fabulous to be my age — I'm 59 and will be 60 next month — and be employed. I think it's great, when a lot of girls my age are being pushed out by younger ones, to have this success. I could work 366 days of the year if I wanted to. If I've got to have a problem, let it be this one — being in demand.
Q: The TV show has pushed you over the top. How hard was it to break onto the Food Network?
A: It was tough at first. When I first went on, my agent and producer had to talk the Food Network into it. They were more into chefs, and not looking at everyday cooks. I think they were a little surprised at how well we did. There was a need and a want for the everyday woman (Deen) who cooks things that they cook at home.