First there was the Savannah restaurant, then the best-selling cookbooks and the Food Network shows. Now the Southern powerhouse who built a mini-empire on trans fats offers a no-holds-barred memoir, It Ain't All About the Cookin', a book that'll leave you hankerin' for fried chicken and biscuits.

Writing a memoir, even when the revelations aren't lavished with references to butter, can be a slippery slope (just ask James Frey). Truth is tricky when memory is involved, but there's no bull-bleep here: Deen's story is straightforward, bluntly honest and served up with trademark irreverent Southern spice (and her favorite recipes). My God has a sense of humor even if what I say has a four-letter word in it, she proclaims. Expletives aside, Cookin' is a hoot, a read that'll grab hold of you like white on rice as you devour Deen's rags-to-riches tale.

Deen had happy childhood hours in her Grandmomma Paul's kitchen and carefree summers spent at her grandparents' resort; then came her high school cheerleading days, followed by a difficult marriage to an alcoholic husband. There's heartbreak as she struggles with crippling agoraphobia. There's divorce and poverty, and two hungry kids to support. But, always, there's the cookin'.

Desperate, Deen did the one thing she knew that she could do. With only $200, she launched The Bag Lady, peddling homemade sandwiches to office workers. In short order, the hardworking mother went from selling sandwiches to sit-down service, starting two successful restaurants, meeting influential people, and eventually winding up on the Food Network as the undisputed queen of Southern cuisine, and host of Paula's Home Cooking. Along the way, she found fairy-tale romance and marriage. It Ain't All About the Cookin' drives home the importance of love, perseverance and family. It's also a mini primer on restaurant ownership, and a guide to the beguiling secrets of Southern charm and Southern food. Alison Hood writes from San Rafael, California.

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