When the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show heads to Houston on Sept. 17-18, it will be the first time the mega-event has touched down west of the Mississippi. For its Texas debut, MCES is bringing one of the most popular personalities in food as a headliner — the lady herself, Paula Deen. CultureMap's Sarah Rufca caught up with Deen about what to expect at the show, her career and her public fight with Anthony Bourdain.
CultureMap: We are so excited to have you in Houston. I know you have some experience at the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Shows — what should fans expect from your appearance?
Paula Deen: I've been involved for six years, and I've done other shows but there's nothing like this Metropolitan. There's 100 vendors, specialty products and the camaraderie is great, just great. I'm pretty active in it, there's a luncheon, though I hear that it's sold out, where they'll serve something from my recipes. At the last show instead of having the book signing we did photographs, so I'm not sure which of those it'll be, but we'll do something special with the fans. On stage I will do a little cooking demo, but I don't do too much cooking demos, it's very, very hard in one to do any cooking with substance. And a lot of Q&A.
Anthony Bourdain has eaten a sheep eyeball, a cobra — the whole cobra but his heart was still beating while he ate it — wildebeest rectum that was unwashed ... and he said my food sucks? I don't think so, Anthony! Give me okra and peas and tomatoes and cucumbers and call me weird.
CM: In terms of interacting with your fans, how is this experience different from your show or going to your restaurant?
PD: We can really get personal! I can get to know them and they can get to know me, and I cant do that in the restaurant, you just don't have that kind of time. We can just get down.
CM: Have you spent much time in Houston? Is there anything you're looking forward to seeing or eating while you're here?
PD: Texas is one of my favorite spots. I don't love the heat, but Houston is one of those places I always wind up in. I've got a book coming out in October and we're traveling by bus instead of by plane and we are driving all the way to Houston for a couple weeks straight, for Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible. The girls in Texas might be my biggest supporters and I appreciate it and I love them. Girls in Texas have some spunk.
The last time we were there we went to Vic & Anthony's and it was just so delicious, we'll probably end up there again.
CM: You've had a very nontraditional path to success. What advice do you give people, especially women, who want to achieve big things?
PD: It has been phenomenal. What did you say, nontraditional path to success? You hit the nail on the head. What were my chances of survival? They were probably slim but I refused to quit working. I was obsessed with survival and willing to work while everybody else I knew was playing, relaxing, having family time. My success is so untraditional but my words to girls who want to take responsibility and change their life is never give up.
I've been told no so many times. When I was opening my restaurant there is not a bank down here in Savannah, Georgia, that I didn't put my head down on and cry. No was not an option for me. The day I took responsibility — I remember that day. I come from an era where it was alright for men to take care of their wives, it was perfectly acceptible for a wife to stay home and do housework, raise kids, and cook meals. I came from that, and I realized when I was 40 that if I wanted to change things it was up to me, once I took responsibility for myself, God just put me in all the right places at the right time. I think God blesses hard work and I was willing to work very, very, very hard.
CM: I have to ask you about Anthony Bourdain and his comments about you in TV Guide. What do you think of him and the whole situation?
PD: I have to say I was shocked that he used such harsh words and almost took it personal, having never met me. But I understand he's just that way. [My husband] Michael was telling me he's eaten a sheep eyeball, a cobra — the whole cobra but his heart was still beating while he ate it — wildebeest rectum that was unwashed ... and he said my food sucks? I don't think so, Anthony! Give me okra and peas and tomatoes and cucumbers and call me weird. I've lived too long to let something like that upset me, when I heard it I just laughed. I said, "Anthony, come put your feet under my table and try my food and see what you think."
CM: You responded in Page Six that you cook for people who cant afford $60 steaks and who are just trying to feed their families. Why do you think Southern cooking doesn't get the same respect?
PD: I think it does get the same kind of respect from the majority of people, he might be the exception. I think I represent that mother that in their home that cooks for their families, that's where I came from. My mother and grandfather were in the restaurant-launching business. It's only in recent years I realize what a wonderful cook my grandmother was. There was nothing she couldn't tackle. She would give me a bucket and say, "Paula Ann, you go pick all the periwinkles," and make periwinkle soup. Once we ran over a turtle — this was back in the 1960s — grandma got out, put it in the trunk and made turtle soup. She cooked rabbit, sqiurrel, things you see on fancy menus now.
CM: You've got the television shows, restaurants, cookbooks, a magazine, and product lines. How do you do it all and what's your next project?
PD: It takes a team to raise the village idiot, honey. There's a lot of people working on behalf of our partnership and our products. We are working on so many things, but one of our newest businesses is how we can help the consumer find the best buys of the day, that's being worked on right now.