For the month of March, I’ll be featuring my experiences with recipes by none other than the lovely Paula Deen. It only makes sense to start this “Celebrity Chef of the Month” series with Ms. Deen, since she was the very first “famous” cook I have ever met. With this photo taken at the 2009 BlogHer conference in Chicago, I was lucky to even get this opportunity. By the time we got in line, her publicist was already beginning to shoe people away. We were the LAST ones to get to meet her.
Many people ask me, “What is she like in person?” I’m happy to say she is EXACTLY like she is on television. Beautiful and kind…the type of person that could have sat you down and talked to you all day, over pie and sweet tea of course. She signed her autograph and we had a short conversation about my hat before she was rushed off to her next engagement.
Paula definitely wasn’t born into success; she had to work for it. As a child in Albany, Georgia, Paula spent countless hours learning to cook in her Grandmother Paul’s kitchen. She memorized recipes and learned the types of cooking methods only a Grandma could teach. Little did she know, those same recipes would contribute to her cooking success. In an interview with Larry King, Paula described her childhood as “delicious.” She had warm loving parents, safety and security; she had everything she wanted. “Life was good, honey,” she told King.
Paula married her high school sweetheart, Jimmy Deen, at the age of 18. By the time she had turned 19, her life went on a tragic, downward spiral. Within a year, Paula lost both of her parents. The night her father died, she started her first panic attack which lead to twenty years of battling agoraphobia. In her early twenties, she tried battling the debilitating disorder all the while dealing with two small children and a rocky marriage.
Paula soon confined herself to her home. She turned to the one place she knew she felt comfortable: the kitchen. At this point, Jimmy knew he had to make a decision. He knew it would take multitudes of strength, but he decided to move his family to Savannah, Georgia. A move that truly saved Paula’s life.
After a battling some depression, Paula realized she had the know-how to comfort people through food. She may not have had any formal training, but she did have $200 and decided to open a home-based catering business on a wing and a prayer. That’s when The Bag Lady was born.
Now a single mother,through hard work, dedication and help from her boys, Paula quickly found success. She went to open a restaurant which then lead to the release of a cookbook. These ventures only served to help her rise to the top.
At the age of 42, Paula finally became a professional chef. Her achievements are endless with television shows, interviews, product lines, restaurants and books. I marvel at women who find strength amidst despair. Such a strong woman to conquer her fears and follow her dreams regardless of the nay-sayers and the life hand she was dealt. A true mentor to us all.
Be on the lookout for some of Paula’s recipes that I will be making and reviewing all during the month of March.
“Cooking has always brought me a happiness that I didnt think was available. I just fire up the stove, and things start to fade away.” – Paula Deen