You see her on TV, you use her cookbooks, you may even be lucky enough to eat in her restaurant, soon you'll be able to read her new lifestyle magazine and see her brilliant smile on the silver screen (she's in Elizabethtown, a major motion picture in theaters this fall, directed by Cameron Crowe and produced by Tom Cruise). We're not talking Martha here, we're talking Paula Deen, the queen of the Savannah cooking scene make that the Southern cooking scene. As her audience grows, so grows the demand for her down-home Southern recipes. Paula Deen's Kitchen Classics, a one-volume edition of her first two mega-selling tributes to the cuisine she knows and loves, The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook and The Lady & Sons, Too!, will be in stores in early October just in time for holiday giving and getting put it on your holiday hit list and reserve your copies ASAP.
Paula is big-time now a one-woman media conglomerate, outstanding restaurateur, creator of a line of food products and fun accessories, from biscuit mix and butt-rub to aprons, T-shirts and hats, star of the ever-popular Paula's Home Cooking on the Food Network, loving mother of her two handsome, talented sons and devoted sister to her younger brother, Bubba, who, with her help and guidance, opened Bubba's Oyster Bar, another Savannah success, just a few months ago.
But life for Paula hasn't always been a picnic. She married her high-school sweetheart without much thought to starting a career for herself and by the time she was 23 had two baby boys under three, had lost both her beloved parents and taken in her 16-year-old brother to raise, too. Overwhelmed, fear of the outside seeped in and soon she was all but paralyzed. Paula had developed a full-blown case of agoraphobia and couldn't leave the house. Not good for her, her kids or her marriage. Her husband moved the family to Savannah and Paula still suffered from her immobilizing malaise. Then, as she tells it, she woke up one morning (June 19, 1989, to be exact) and began the rest of her life. And that life is as successful as it is inspirational.
A feisty, female phoenix, Paula found a career by going back to what she knew best cooking. Newly divorced, with only $200 and two willing teenage sons, she began The Bag Lady, a home-based lunch delivery service; she made the food and her boys delivered it. The Bag Lady, an uncommon success, paved the way to The Lady &and Sons, Paula's now famous Savannah restaurant where she serves the food she loves, the food she learned to cook in her grandmother's South Georgia kitchen. Southern cooking, according to Paula, is a hand-me-down art, it comes from within and it's how we show our love, by what we cook and create in the kitchen. It's full of flavor. It's filling. It just makes you feel good. Paula's food made so many people feel so good that she self-published her first cookbook in 1997. It was quickly picked up by a major publishing house and followed by three more super-popular cookbooks. It's hard to think of Paula who married tugboat pilot Michael Groover last year as anything but bubbly, warm, irrepressible and irresistible. But knowing something about her life, her troubles and the way she overcame adversity makes her an even more appealing personality. John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, has caught her essence when he describes her as an example of the extraordinary phenomenon of Southern womanhood, the steel magnolia. And all that effervescent energy and Southern pride is here for y'all to enjoy in Paula Deen's Kitchen Classics.