I attended a special celebrity cooking demonstration by Paula Deen at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show, which paid a visit to Houston over the weekend.
Looking out upon a sea of 2,500 perfectly blonde coiffed ladies in white capri pants, as screams of "ohh's and ahh's!" prevailed, the Dolly Parton of the Food Network made everyone believers in her specific style of full-fat food evangelism.
But, I was already fully prepared for the conversion that comes with life-changing colloquialisms like, "everyday you wake up on the right side of the dirt is a good one" or "bein' rich is having leftovers. Good leftovers make yo' tongue fly outta yo' mouth and smack yo' brains out." Because I had already spent a year with the nostalgically Southern and quick deprecating wit that is Paula Deen.
In 2009, my husband (Houston chef Seth Siegel-Gardner) and I moved to London, so that he could explore European kitchens and I could attend the London School of Economics. Little did I know, a journey thousands of miles away would lead me straight into the excessively charming kitchen of Paula Deen.
In 2010, I wrote my master's dissertation on Paula Deen as a cooking show that is a "construction of consumer fantasies" and when I told Paula Deen in person, she couldn't have been more delighted.
On Saturday, September 17th, courtesy of Eater Houston, I was able to tell her in person the very big impact that her show had on my life. Amid her chef-coated entourage (even her handlers wear chef coats) Paula patiently listened to me tell her about my research, the panels I assembled, the visual analysis I did of her relationship with the audience - and ultimately the entire year I spent studying her, her set and the millions of Americans she spoke to on prime time, including the final editing process I completed while working feverishly at the Just August Project - my husband's 2010 pop-up restaurant with Terrence Gallivan and Justin Yu.
At the end of more than five minutes of listening intently, her hands perched on my shoulders, her publicist looming ever nearer, Paula only had one question for me, her big blue mascara-ed eyes looked at me unblinking, "Did you pass?"
"Yes!" I told her. She gave me a hug, told me I was a "pretty girl" and left - a tower of Southern charm and mascara with chef coats trailing after her.