My Interview with Paula Deen

One of my favorite quotes (and there are many) from Paula Deen’s biography It Ain’t All About the Cookin’ is “I want to be a woman of substance.”  I have to admit, these words struck a chord with me the minute I read them and I think about them often.  So, when I was given the opportunity this past weekend to actually meet and interview Paula Deen at the Food Network’s Food & Wine Festival in Atlantic City, I jumped at the chance and I immediately started worrying about what I was going to ask this “woman of substance” whom I so admire.

If you haven’t read Paula’s biography yet, please make it a point to.  Her story is truly inspiring.  She overcame 20 years of agoraphobia, raised two boys as a single mother all while starting a business with hardly a penny to her name.  When she opened her first restaurant, she was so overdrawn at the bank she didn’t have enough money to put change in the cash register.  Her life story is a true inspiration to this entrepreneur and single mother of 2 boys.  You can’t help but be motivated and entertained.  If you haven’t noticed, Paula is also very funny.  Put it on your end of the summer reading list, you won’t be sorry.

But, while you’re happily reading, I still don’t have an answer to my question, “What do I ask Paula Deen when I get my chance?”

As we waited with the rest of the members of the media in the special room designated for celebrity interviews at Caesars, I chatted with fellow bloggers and wondered how this interview was going to go down.  We were all seated around tables of eight, our table being at the front of the room.  There was probably about 30 people in the room.  When we heard Paula coming, and believe me, you can hear Paula coming, I started to get nervous.  When we were informed that we would only get one question each, I started to panic.  “Which question, I’ve got like twenty.”

Paula was as friendly and charming as ever, albeit in desperate search of coffee.  She had just come off of a three hour party on the boardwalk for hundreds of quests and only had a few moments until she had to be on stage for her cooking demo.  Her handler scurried to get her coffee as larger than life Paula Deen sat right down at our table.  (About two feet from me, oh crap.)  Questions started around the table.  “Who is your favorite clothes designer?”  “How have you enjoyed your stay in Atlantic City?”  This was a good question because it led Paula into the story of her being paired with the “Jersey Shore” crew on the CMA awards and how that had shaped her impression of people from New Jersey (great).  I personally can’t imagine what the Jersey Shore crew was doing at the CMA awards to begin with. And, why put a lady like Paula with people who have never heard the term “lady like” is beyond me.  Talk about the antithesis of a “woman of substance.”

But, let me back off of my soap box and get back to the interview, it was my turn.  I had my copy of Paula’s biography sitting on the table in front of me.  I tapped the book as I said, “My question isn’t about the food.”   She didn’t hesitate with her reply “There’s a lot more than just food in that book.”  Oh, crap I could feel it. I was starting to well up.  NO, NO!! So unprofessional.  Keep it together, Deb, onward.  “Your life story is such an inspiration to so many people, Paula.”  Yep, I could feel a tear coming. “Especially to me, I am a single mother with two boys, trying to build a business of my own.” Now it was obvious to Paula that I was getting teary.  Her genuine sincerity and compassion pushed me right over the edge as I finally asked, “What advice do you have for all the people out there right now, many of them out of work or going through a difficult transition like divorce?”

Paula, with the utmost sincerity nodded and said, “You know, my back was against the wall and I had to do something.”  She talked about her 20 year battle with agoraphobia and shared with all of us that she often did and still does recite the Serenity Prayer to herself.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

After she said that, she stood up and gave me a big hug.  It’s all a bit of a blur after that.  I know I told her I wasn’t going to let her go before signing my book, in which she wrote.

“To Deb,

With Love Girl!

We Can!

Paula Deen. “

Yes, we can, Girl.  After she had signed my book, the handler made it very clear no more questions would be taken.  My last comment to Paula was that I was so embarrassed for getting so emotional.  She told me, “Don’t ever apologize for crying.  The time to cry is when you stop crying.” I’m not sure what that meant, but every Paula-ism sounds like pearls of wisdom to me.

Deborah Smith is the Founder and Executive Editor of  Launched in 2007 as a home for her growing collection of recipes, Jersey Bites soon grew into a hub for all things edible in the Garden State.  If you can’t find her at her computer writing about food, she’s in the kitchen cooking it.  And, if she’s not there, check back in the garden.