The evening I met the Queen of Southern Cuisine began in true Savannah style with cold beverages from the bar – Pinot Grigio for me and a Yuengling for my handsome – and live music – a classic Ray Charles cover song, none other than “Georgia On My Mind,” performed by two talented guys with their guitars and perfect harmonies. The lights turned down in the Lucas Theatre and this is what we heard:
They played two more songs, The Allman Brother’s “Ramblin’ Man” and “Chicken Fried” by The Zac Brown Band…perfectly appropriate before Paula Deen took the stage.
And then, there she was. After all the years I’d watched her on TV and imagined her voice as I read her books, there she was not more than 125 feet standing in front of me. She and her husband Michael came out dancing. Her son, Jamie Deen tweeted this photo from backstage which read: “Seeing Mom dance makes me happy.” It did my heart good to see them too, resilient and carefree – A stark difference from what the media would have us to believe. He twirled her around on stage as the audience clapped, hooped and hollered. I must admit, I got a little teary eyed, and nearly patted my boyfriend’s kneecap off in excitement.
Her boys, Jamie and Bobby trickled out some time after that. I was so star struck, I don’t remember them entering the stage. Immediately, it was as if I was seeing an old friend, hanging out with Paula and her family in their living room. There was no formality, no script to the show. Paula was the exact same in person as she is on television. When she spoke, she began recognizing faces in the audience, pointing out her new daughter-in-law to us all (Congratulations Bobby!), and acknowledging other friends and relatives that had come to see her. She is the personable, warm and sweet spirited woman I have grown to know and love, oozing with Southern hospitality and authentic drawl. Right away, she told us what we could expect from the show, with a funny interjection from Michael. Throughout the night, the tugboat captain was like a Parakeet, chirping witty things whenever the moment struck:
The night was filled with great audience interaction. At one point, Paula called a Look-A-Like up on stage. We played “Deen There, Done That,” hosted by “Bobby Chewbanks” dressed in full costume, complete with a wig and an old-fashioned sport coat. Later, Bobby told us a funny story about his Grandma Paul (God rest her soul), who lived to be 91. He said she use to take her medicine with a pull-tab Budweiser Tall Boy.
Paula spoke to a packed house. I don’t believe there was an empty seat in the Theatre. During the event, she cooked up three dishes with help from the family: a Georgia Peach Trifle, a Chicken Arugula Salad and Jambalaya. Next to meeting Paula, my favorite part of the show were the short video clips they shared. We got to see how Michael and Paula met and even got an inside look and mini tour of Paula’s beautiful home on Wilmington Island. Her rags-to-riches story was shared, including a look back at “The Bag Lady” days. Many audience members had eaten those first lunches.
After the show, I got to meet and talk with Jamie and Michael. Jamie was as nice as he could be. He looked at my boyfriend Kurt who is born and raised in Savannah–and took a double take. “Don’t I know you?,” Jamie said. Kurt replied, “I’m from Savannah. You may have seen me around.” Then Jamie said, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve poured you a glass of sweet tea or two.” CLASSIC!! You can’t make this stuff up.
Michael and Paula met because of Paula’s Shih Tzus, Sam and Otis. Me and Paula have even more in common than Southern, coastal cooking, y’all! I bet she’d love my sweet Shih Tzu, Ewok.
The moment finally came when I would have my chance to meet Paula. I received no special treatment, it was every man for himself. About the time I approached the stage, I heard her bodyguard say, “Okay, last one folks. Paula’s got places to be.” Panic set in. I couldn’t be in the same room with Paula and not at least try to get a photo. This opportunity may never present itself again!
Just before she walked off the stage, I managed to jump in and snap these three pitiful selfies. I also handed her a copy of “It Ain’t All About the Cooking,” and she quickly scribbled Paula on the inside cover. And just like that, she was gone. So close, but so far away. Will this lady ever know how much she’s influenced me in the kitchen? Will she ever know it’s my dream to cook with her? So much to say, so little time. I am a better cook because of you, Paula. Thanks for paving the way.
Paula, if you read this, know that your fans are so glad you’re “getting butter every day.” We never doubted you would.
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