Paula Deen's Happy Halloween
Cooking Was Her Salvation
The cookies have disappeared, and now the sugar is kicking in: 5-year-old Cat Girl begins running around in circles, and 7-year-old Pirate Boy lines up three wooden chairs, leaping from one to the next. The occasion is Paula Deen's Ladies' Home Journal cover shoot, and between takes Deen, resplendent in a sleek black pantsuit and silver slip-on shoes, watches the mayhem with bemusement. She likes this holiday. A lot. "One Halloween I dressed up like a witch and sprayed my hair so it stood up real big and sat out on the front porch," she says later. "I had this big ol' cauldron" -- pronounced, in Deen-ese, cawwwwlll-druhn" -- and I had my real witchy laugh, hee hee hee, and the children would just get all bug-eyed."
Beyond her super-decadent cooking, it is this spark of mischief and her obvious desire to get everyone in on the good times that have made Paula Deen, 61, the culinary star she is today -- and soon, a possible talk-show star. That's because the Silver Fox of the Food Network may very well be getting her own talk show in 2009. She's not yet sure of the format or even what subjects she'll tackle, but one thing she does know: It'll shoot in New York City ("I'm not a big-city girl -- so I'll work there four days a week, then fly home"), and it'll be more gab, less chicken-and-biscuits.
But boy, those biscuits -- and mac and cheese, and fried turkey, and gooey cinnamon rolls -- have served Deen well. Nineteen years ago the Georgia native not only was broke but also virtually locked in her home; for years after her beloved parents died, she suffered from agoraphobia, which made her afraid to leave the house. So she cooked. And cooked some more. When she realized her husband would not be able to support her, she mustered the courage to strike out on her own. Exit the husband (who handed her $200 to start her own sandwich business, with the parting words, "Knock yourself out"); enter a new life.
With characteristic dark humor, Deen dubbed herself The Bag Lady, selling sandwiches door to door. If only her ex-husband had used that 200 bucks to buy stock in Paula Deen Inc: The Bag Lady eventually morphed into The Lady & Sons, a lines-around-the-block Savannah restaurant she ran with her boys, Bobby, now 38, and Jamie, 41. Then came the cookbooks (including her latest, for kids, My First Cookbook), television shows on the Food Network, a magazine, and a best-selling memoir. Cooking wasn't just her gift, it was her salvation. And Deen knows it.