Paula Deen: TV's Sexiest Female Chef

About Paula Deen:

"I am living proof that the American dream still exists. It is still alive and well. There is only one trick, you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and work very, very hard."


Paula Ann Hiers Deen (born January 19, 1947) is an American celebrity chef and cooking show television host. Deen resides in Savannah, Georgia, where she owns and operates The Lady & Sons restaurant with her sons, Jamie and Bobby Deen. She has published fourteen cookbooks. Though married in 2004 to Michael Groover, she uses the surname Deen, from her first marriage.

Early Life:

Deen was born Paula Ann Hiers in Albany, Georgia, the daughter of Corrie A. Hiers (née Paul) and Earl Wayne Hiers, Sr. She grew up Baptist, and is still deeply devoted to her faith. Her parents died before she was 23, and an early marriage ended in divorce. In her 20s, Deen suffered from panic attacks and agoraphobia. She then focused on cooking for her family as something she could do without leaving her house. Her grandmother Irene Paul had taught her the hand-me-down art of Southern cooking; one of the only places she felt safe was at her own stove, making thousands of pots of chicken and dumplings. She later moved to Savannah, Georgia, with her sons.


In 1989, she divorced her husband, Jimmy Deen, to whom she had been married since 1965. She was left with only $200 and money was tight raising both her kids and her younger brother, Earl ("Bubba"). She tried hanging wallpaper, working as a bank teller, and selling real estate and insurance. She then started a catering service, making sandwiches and meals, which her sons Jamie and Bobby delivered.

Controversies:
1. Unhealthy Recipes:
Deen has faced extensive criticism for the high amounts of fat, salt, and sugar in her recipes. She faced particularly strong objections with the release of Cookbook for the Lunch-Box Set, a cookbook aimed at children, with Barbara Walters saying of the book, "You tell kids to have cheesecake for breakfast. You tell them to have chocolate cake and meatloaf for lunch. And french fries. Doesn't it bother you that you're adding to this?" Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain commented in 2011 that he "would think twice before telling an already obese nation that it's OK to eat food that is killing us".


"I was determined to share my positive approach and not let diabetes stand in the way of enjoying my life."

2. Type 2 Sugar:
On January 17, 2012, Deen announced that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years before. It was also disclosed that Deen is a paid spokesperson for the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. She was called a hypocrite for continuing to promote her high-fat and sugar diet while disclosing her medical condition only when it benefited her in representing the drug company to market their diabetes management program.


"There’s not one food that causes diabetes.What causes Type II diabetes is being overweight... I’ve just come to grips, over the past four or five months, with my diabetes."

3. Racial Epithet Controversy:
In June 2013, Deen was the target of a lawsuit alleging racial and sexual discrimination. It alleged that Deen made derogatory remarks regarding African Americans in the presence of a female employee whose nieces are bi-racial with an African-American father. The case was heard in August 2013, with the judge dismissing the suit with prejudice, meaning it cannot be re-filed. Both sides agreed to dismiss the lawsuit "without any award of costs or fees to any party".

4. N-Word:
Deen stated in her deposition that she had used the "N-word" at times. Specifically, she recalled telling her husband about an incident "when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head. I didn't feel real favorable towards him." Asked if she had used the word since then, she said: "I'm sure I have, but it's been a very long time maybe in repeating something that was said to me probably a conversation between blacks. I don't – I don't know. But that's just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the 60's in the south."

5. Endorsement Contracts:
In the time between the filing of the suit and the suit being dismissed, Deen had cookery programs, publishing deals and endorsement contracts cancelled by Food Network, Smithfield Foods, Walmart, Target, QVC, Caesars Entertainment, Home Depot, diabetes drug company Novo Nordisk, J.C. Penney, Sears, Kmart and her then-publisher Ballantine Books. However, several companies have expressed their intent to continue their endorsement deals with Deen.During the same time, sales of Deen's cookbooks soared.

6. Law & Order:
There were echoes of the controversy in a 2013 episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, the fictional story of a southern TV chef, played by Cybill Shepherd.

Former President Jimmy Carter urged that Deen be forgiven, stating, "I think she has been punished, perhaps overly severely, for her honesty in admitting it and for the use of the word in the distant past. She's apologized profusely.


7. Slave-Themed Party:
“The entire waiter staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive. That restaurant represented a certain era in America. After the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War. It was not only black men, it was black women. They were slaves.”

8. Racist Jokes:
 “It’s just what they are they’re jokes. Most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. I can’t determine what offends another person.”

Interesting Facts:
1. Paula suffers from agoraphobia and has regular panic attacks.  She started cooking because it was something she could do without leaving her house.

2. Paula learned to cook from her grandmother Irene.

3. Paula divorced her husband, sausage icon Jimmy Deen, in 1989.  According to Deen, she was left with just $200 to raise her kids.


4. Paula has appeared several times on the Oprah Winfrey Show: First in 2002, twice in 2007 and once in 2010.


5. Deen began working with the Food Network in 1999, when her friend Erin Lewis introduced her to an agent.

6. In 2004, Paula married Michael Groover, a tugboat captain.   The wedding was shown on the Food Network.


Achievements:
1. In June 2007, Deen won a Daytime Emmy Awards (Outstanding Lifestyle Host) for Paula's Home Cooking.

2. In October 2010, she was selected as the Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade, and presided over the 2011 Rose Parade before the Rose Bowl Game on January 1, 2011.

3. Deen made her film debut in Elizabethtown, starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst in 2005.

4. She played the aunt of Bloom's character, and her cooking was featured.

5. A Food Network special, Paula Goes Hollywood, aired in conjunction with the film's premiere.


The Story:
Deen's home business, The Bag Lady, soon outgrew her kitchen. She first moved into the Best Western on Savannah's southside on Abercorn Street in 1991 with a restaurant called The Lady. In January 1996, Deen opened her restaurant, The Lady & Sons, in downtown Savannah, on West Congress Street. Within a few years, the restaurant moved to the old White Hardware building on Whitaker. USA Today named The Lady & Sons the "International Meal of the Year" in 1999. The specialty is a buffet of Southern "comfort foods". Every buffet meal includes a salad bar and one dessert. Her sons are also involved in managing the restaurant, which is popular with tourists visiting Savannah.



In 2008, Deen opened another restaurant, the Paula Deen Buffet, at Harrah's Tunica Casino in Tunica County, Mississippi. It has an entrance facade modeled on Deen's home in Savannah and features Southern cooking. As of June 2013, the Paula Deen Buffet does not appear on Harrah's Tunica Casino's website list of restaurants.


In September 2009, Deen announced a new dessert line to be sold at Walmart including signature pies Apple Crunch Top, Dark Rum Pecan, Old Fashioned Fudge and St. Louis style Gooey Butter Cake bars.

In addition to these, Deen co-owned Uncle Bubba's Oyster House in Savannah Georgia. It underwent an "abrupt closure" on April 4, 2014 with a spokesperson saying that there were discussions about development of the waterfront property.


On April 27, 2015, Deen officially opened Paula Deen's Family Kitchen, her new restaurant and retail concept, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.


In 2004, Deen married Michael Groover (born 1956), a tugboat captain in the Port of Savannah, Georgia. Deen has two children from a previous marriage. The wedding was featured in a Food Network show in 2004. Their wedding took place at Bethesda Academy in Savannah. Paula is a supporter of Bethesda Academy, and asked Old Savannah Tours to donate $1 to the organization for each ticket purchased for the Paula Deen Store ticket sale.


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