Here’s where the South repaired its image, by laying claim to classic American dishes — fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and even pimento cheese (which my niece grew up with in Nebraska and has always considered a Midwestern treat). Use good ingredients and techniques handed down from generations of good family cooks. Southern food is the most quintessential of American cooking, and Paula Deen has always known this.
This plump, funny lady had a gift for self caricature, and she was happy to take her typical Junior League cookbook recipes and turn them into parodies of themselves. Did she really love every bite of deep fried cheesecake and Krispy Kreme bread pudding? Who knows? The job of food TV hosts is to bite, make the yummy face and say a lots and lots of dishes taste great. You may hate Paula Deen and love Anthony Bourdain, but in the end of the day they’re both giving happy reaction shots to foods they may or may not actually like. (Is Bourdain going to walk into some poor village woman’s kitchen and say her stew needs salt?)
The nation’s assessment of Southern food has shifted again in recent years. Once a land of unhealthy food nightmares, then a place to get really good fried chicken and cornbread, the South has lately become something of an American culinary beacon. Everyone understands that the connection to the agrarian past is stronger here, the repertoire of recipes is broader and the culinary traditions more intact than in most other places. As Nathalie Dupree so smartly observed recently, the South is the new Italy when it comes to food. Paula Deen did not come along for this latest development.
Paula Deen: The message and the market
John Kessler makes some good points here! I agree with his assessment of Southern food’s evolution in the eyes of the nation! I do, however, believe that Paula’s sudden fall from grace has to do with her being a horrible, hypocritical bigot lacking any self-awareness (I mean, “Deen fondly describes her assistant as “black as that board,” pointing to a black stage backdrop, and then jokes that no one can see him standing in front of it.” SHE SAID THOSE THINGS, ON CAMERA, FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES.), AND that she has built an empire peddling garbage food (and Victoza®!) to the masses. But more the former.
Because how else would you explain Guy Fieri’s ongoing ability to stay astride his fiery horse (“HI-HO, FLAVORTOWN, AWAAAAY!!!”), leading his own personal culinary fucking apocalypse? MAYBE WE JUST NEED TO GET HIM ON TAPE.