We have a friend who once touted the city of Savannah, Ga., as its representative to the press. She invited us down to plumb the city's treasures, of which there were many, and as our sightseeing drew to a close, she said that the final event would be our dining at "Paula Deen's" restaurant where we would not only feed our guts but meet the food goddess herself. At the time I was supposedly on a heart healthy diet so I promised myself I would carefully choose what would go down my gullet.
We should have been warned of what was to come because our trim friend said she would not be able to join us because of work commitments and that Paula herself was out of town but the restaurant was prepared to greet us and feed us.
We soldiered on to the restaurant alone and found it quite crowded but when we gave our name to the host, he said a table had been reserved for us and we should order what we want and feel free to sample the buffet offerings.
We realized afterward that this had to be one of her two sons. (The restaurant is nowadays titled "The Lady and Sons.") Neither my wife nor I can remember what we ordered for our main course but I still can recall what I found at the buffet table and adjoining salad bar.
There was Southern fried chicken, turkey and dressing, pork stew, creamed potatoes, white rice, macaroni and cheese, creamed corn, cabbage, yams, collard greens, lima beans, green beans, and black eyed peas. There were also three desserts: banana pudding, peach cobbler and gooey butter cakes. The buffet goes for $17.99 and it is amazing to watch people try to get their money's worth.
The restaurant was jammed, seemingly most of them tourists, and the buffet table had to be replenished several times while I stood there and I finally went over and took a portion of the gooey butter cake. It literally melted in my mouth with a host of different flavors. They gave us a signed copy of Paula's cookbook (she now has 15 different ones) and the recipe for the gooey cake was in there. It indicates why her nickname is "The Queen of Butter."
You start with a plain box of yellow cake mix. Then you stir an egg into eight tablespoons of melted butter before adding it to the mix. For the filling you soften a package of cream cheese, add two eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla, another stick of butter and a box of confection's sugar. You cut the cake into small squares because a large piece could kill you on the spot. My wife makes it once a year for a large party and people keep commenting on how rich it is but it is amazing how many go for a second and even third piece.
The last few months have not been as tasty for Paula. First, she admitted in January 2012, that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2009 while she had been acting as a spokesperson for the Danish pharmaceutical company, Novo, whose main product is insulin and who furnishes the drug extensively throughout the United States. Twitterers immediately labeled her a hypocrite who made money by pushing a dangerous diet for diabetes patients and making more money on top of that by being a spokesman for a manufacturer of insulin.
Then to add insult to injury, she is being sued by a former restaurant manager for making racist remarks in her presence. The plaintiff claims that she was in charge of catering and staff for the wedding of Ms. Deen's brother, Bubba. When she asked Ms. Deen what the servers should wear, she claims that Paula said this in all seriousness: "Well what I would really like is a bunch of little n***ers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shirts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around. Now that would be a true Southern wedding, wouldn't it? But we can't do that because the media would be on me about that."
In a deposition in the case, Deen admitted using the "N word" sometimes but said that she's not racist. "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."
The Food Network can. It announced that it was not going to renew its contract with Paula Deen. And we have the moral dilemma of deciding whether to drop gooey butter cakes from our party menu. Too much sugar and fat can kill more than a reputation.
Milton Bass is a regular Eagle contributor.