Home + Housewares Show: Paula Deen

From March 6-8, I was at the International Home + Housewares Show looking for the latest in products and trends. This blog post is part of a series covering different aspects of the event.

Paula, Michael & John

Paula Deen, probably one of the sweetest Southern ladies around, was at the Housewares show for a cooking demonstration on Monday. A huge crowd had long gathered by the time Paula appeared, and Paula being Paula, she decided to take to the microphone and spend the hour talking with her fans. Her husband Michael Groover and chef John McLemore stayed (mostly) behind the counter to make a pork chop casserole.

Michael & John

Paula answered audience questions that ran the gamut: from cooking to personal, from uplifting to sad. But she started out cracking jokes.

On her and Michael’s 7-year anniversary was the day before: “I’m feeling all itchy these days, and I don’t know why,” she said with a smile.

On her husband’s recent accomplishment: “We have some good news: Michael here has quit smoking! I’m proud of him. The bad news is…I haven’t. What can I say? I’m just not a quitter! I keep on and on!”

When a young girl asked her how old she was when she started cooking, Paula began telling the story of how she got married when she was 18 (“You should not do that”) and realized that her mom was not coming to her house to cook dinner for her anymore, so she had to start. Then, both of Paula’s parents died at a young age, and she suffered from agoraphobia. “I stayed in the kitchen, and cooking became my therapy,” Paula said.

Cooking

In response to someone who asked if Paula was concerned about all the butter and deep frying her recipes call for, she responded, “My grandmother lived to be 91, and she cooked the way I do to feed her family and herself every day of her life.” It is more a matter of genetics and family history, Paula believes, that determines how susceptible you are to fat.

Surprisingly, Paula said that she had always thought the recipes she learned from her grandmother were “redneck” recipes, until about 10 years ago. When she finally made it to New York City, she discovered that dishes like sauteed frog legs were actually considered delicacies.

Paula & Michael

When asked how she and Michael met, Paula launched into a story about her dogs taking a dump in a neighbor’s yard one day, and it ending up being Michael’s lawn. She asked him to teach her to steer her new boat, although she never ended up learning (“I just married someone who could steer it for me”). Among Michael’s selling points? “He was single, and he actually had a job!” And about their first kiss: “I didn’t let him kiss me for a while. Then one day I finally just grabbed his mustache and did this [demonstrating pulling it up] – and I was so happy to see he actually had teeth!”

Ever the gracious host, Paula indulged the audience member who asked for a hug. And she accepted someone’s homemade cookies, and someone else’s high-end sea salts, with sincere thanks.

For the final question of the session, Paula was asked if she teaches her grandkids to cook, and the answer is Yes. Paula said she got in the kitchen with her grandson Jack when he was 2 years old, and he loves to cook. “His Daddy cooks almost all their meals, and anything his Daddy does is the coolest thing in the world,” Paula said.

Pork Chop CasseroleIn her final remarks before hurrying off to catch a flight, Paula thanked everyone for coming and exhorted the audience, “Get in the kitchen with your family – and don’t forget to laugh!”

 

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