June 2010

Butter or Bacon? Paula Deen Answers The Really Tough Questions In Life

Author: Courtney Hampson

I’ll admit I’ve been one of the hungry souls standing in line along West Congress Street in Savannah, amid hundreds of other revelers, mouth watering, waiting for a taste of what The Lady & Sons are servin’ up.

As a native Yankee, with a healthy Food Network obsession, I was a disciple of Paula Deen, long before I ever crossed the Mason Dixon line. However, living in her backyard makes any girl feel a certain kinship. With the sass and spitfire of a Yankee, yet the sweet drawl of a southern belle, Deen has launched herself into the spotlight. And with her trademark “y’all” and signature laugh, she has endeared herself to the masses.

Frankly, you’d have to be hit in the head with a flying ham to not know who she is. She is an empire. The “Lady” and her sons have taken the world (oh yes, they’re global) and all its kitchens by storm.

Deen wasn’t always a mega-star. The “Lady” actually started as the “Bag Lady,” a lunch delivery service that she launched in 1989 and ran from her home kitchen with her sons. The Bag Lady’s popularity grew, and in 1991, expanded from delivering bag lunches to area businesses into a full service restaurant aptly named “The Lady” and located in the Best Western hotel on Savannah’s south side.

Five years later, as their lease ended, the Lady and her sons made the move to their own space on West Congress Street, in Downtown Savannah. That 85-seat restaurant was full every day, and their quick success planted the seeds for an expansion. In November 2003, The Lady & Sons opened the doors to their permanent home. Just a few doorsteps away on West Congress Street, their new 15,000-square-foot space now seats 330 of their longtime fans from The Bag Lady days, and all of the new comfort food devotees they have acquired on the journey.

Along the way, Deen became a household name. Her mega-brand includes hit shows and specials on the Food Network, cookbooks, bake ware, cooking tools, knives, serving pieces, pots and pans, collectibles such as reading glasses, mugs, and checkbook covers as well as dressings, seasonings, spices and more. (Check out pauladeenstore.com.)

Despite her fame, Deen remains a down to earth belle, with a strong connection to her roots. And, she was kind enough to indulge in a little Q & A:

C2: If you had to choose between butter and bacon ‘til death do you part, which one would it be?
Paula Deen: This is a hard question. It’s like asking me to choose my favorite child. I guess I would go with the butter, but I’m not going to be happy without the bacon.

C2: Butter and bacon aside, what are the five (southern) ingredients you can’t live without?
PD: Mayo, cream cheese, potato, pork, biscuits.

C2: Have your tastes changed over time?
PD: Not really. I mean they have evolved, but I like what I like.

C2: As the nation becomes more cognizant of the need for healthy lifestyles, do you think you will have to make a shift in your cooking style to appeal to the masses?
PD: That’s not my job to push an agenda. I cook the way I was raised. I don’t advocate to eat fried food every day. But if you do want comfort food once a week, cook it right.

C2: How many days a year do you travel?
PD: I don’t have the exact number of days, but I think about 80 percent of the year. It’s hard.

C2: So, with less than 75 days at home each year, what are the comforts of home that you miss most when you are on the road?
PD: My family, my bed and my kitchen.

C2: And, when you are back in Savannah, what is your favorite thing to do?
PD: Be at home.

C2: Do you visit any local farmers markets?
PD: I love the local markets in Savannah. When I’m home, I love to do my own marketing and pick my own produce. It is such a pleasure for me.

C2: Do you grow any of your own fruits, vegetables, herbs, etc. for cooking?
PD: Yes! We are starting to grow our own fruit trees at the new house. And we have our vegetables and herbs. It’s so much fun to pick from your own garden.

C2: What is your recipe for happiness?
PD: A happy family life.

C2: I love my Mom, but I don’t know if I could work for her … how have your relationships with your sons grown and been tested over time?
PD: To quote my son Bobby, “The best thing about working with your family is working with your family. And, the worst thing about working with your family is working with your family.”

C2: How has being in the constant spotlight affected you? Do you find yourself turning on the “edit button”?
PD: Anyone who knows me knows there is no edit button.

C2: What is the quintessential southern dish in your mind? Meaning, what is the first thing you would make for a Yankee?
PD: My Yankee family loves my fried pork chops, collards and beans. That’s what they want when they visit.

I say, fire up the oil and let’s give it a whirl y’all.


4 cups vegetable oil
8 (8-ounce) bone-in pork chops, about 1-inch thick
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 pinch celery seeds
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Heat oil in a deep skillet to 350 degrees F.

Arrange the pork chops in a large shallow dish. Season each pork chop, on both sides, with salt, black pepper, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and celery seeds. Pour the buttermilk over the chops and turn to coat.

Place flour into a large shallow dish. Dip each pork chop into the flour mixture and coat well, shaking off the excess.

Using tongs, gently lower the chops into the deep skillet in batches if necessary. Fry for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown, turning once. Transfer chops to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Serve hot.

This is one of thousands of Deen’s recipes (visit pauladeen.com for more). If you have a hankering, this is southern comfort food that will have you calling home to Mama!


Last month, Deen was at the launch of the Paula Deen Academy of Culinary Arts in Savannah. The Academy is a Savannah-Chatham School District culinary program for high school students, created in partnership with Deen. The program named their new state-of-the-art kitchen after the celebrity cook.

“In my career of 21 years, this is the greatest of all honors for my family and me. I really wish my mother and daddy were here to see it,” said Deen. “I will do everything I can to help this program thrive,” she assured.

Twenty local students will get to share the spotlight with Deen later this year when they appear on the Food Network with Savannah’s culinary queen to showcase the school.

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