Monday, March 1, 2010
The Kitchen Reader - It Ain't All About the Cookin' by Paula Deen
February's The Kitchen Reader book is Paula Deen's memoir, It Ain't All About The Cookin'. In Australia, we are not exposed to Paula Deen, but I did have a vague idea of who she was through reading other people's blogs, and knew that she was famous for using lots of butter in her cooking.
Paula's story is very inspiring. Hers is a true case of rags to riches off the back of her own labour (and with some help from loyal family and friends), with a bit of risk taking along the way that paid off. Paula's business grew from delivering sandwiches to Savannah offices through The Bag Lady business, to the multi-million dollar restaurant, television and publishing empire that it is today. Paula has even appeared in a movie (Elizabethtown), showing how far she has come from the cheerleader who fell in love with the wrong guy and married him against her parents' wishes. Along the way, she conquered the loss of her parents, a lack of funds, agoraphobia and a shiftless husband.
Paula's book is no holds barred - she even discloses some of her own dirty laundry, inviting the reader to make their own judgements. I personally liked her more for disclosing that she isn't a saint, unlike the many sanitised celebrities that enter our loungerooms. As Paula says, telling secrets is a great gift you give to others - tell a secret, get one back. She also refuses to pretend to be someone she's not. For example, in the Foreword, Paula states that she is a cook, not a chef. When she gets her own cooking show, Paula's Home Cooking, and her producer asked her to take "princess bites", she refuses, and tastes the food as robustly as she would in her own home.
The book is peppered with some of Paula's most famous and favourite Southern recipes, many of which sound delicious - who could go past a good beef stroganoff or Mississippi mud cake? I have bookmarked the recipes (because there is no recipe index), and hope to try some of them one day soon.
I love the fact that Paula involved her family in her enterprises so that her businesses are true family businesses. Their involvement was not always willing (at least in the case of her sons), but it gave them an opportunity to grow and prosper together as they overcame the odds to build up a successful food empire. The importance of family is evident throughout the book, and Paula's belief in this fact helped her to deal with the initial rejection of her step-daughter on her second marriage.
Despite the very serious subject matter that is raised in Paula's book, her story is told with a sense of good humour. There are also some great characters in Paula's life for whom she has a very evident affection - her second husband, Michael, and her producer, Gordon Elliott, are standouts.
I enjoyed It Ain't All About the Cookin' a lot. I admire Paula's gutsiness, initiative and obvious zest for life, and I think I could learn a lot from her in those respects. I could imagine there are plenty of people who might not like Paula's style, which is forceful and no holds barred, but I think she's a pretty amazing woman, and I am so glad that we got to read this book.
If you would like to hear other perspectives on this book, check out The Kitchen Reader blogroll.