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Deen was born Paula Hiers in Albany, Georgia, the daughter of Corrie A. and Earl Wayne Hiers, Sr.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, selling real estate and insurance. She then started a catering service, making sandwiches and meals, which her sons Jamie and Bobby delivered.
Deen's home business, The Bag Lady, soon outgrew her kitchen. In January 1996, Deen opened her own restaurant, The Lady & Sons, in downtown Savannah, on West Congress Street. Within a few years, the restaurant moved to a larger building in Savannah's historic district. USA Today named The Lady & Sons the "International Meal of the Year" in 1999. The specialty is a buffet, which typically includes sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, deep-fried Twinkies, fried chicken, cheesy meatloaf, greens, beans, and creamed corn. Every meal is served with a garlic cheese biscuit and a hoecake. 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.
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 Gooey Butter Cake bars.
Books and magazinesEdit
In 1997, Deen self-published The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cooking and The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cooking 2. Both cookbooks featured traditional Southern recipes. She has since published two more, written with Martha Nesbit. Deen has appeared on QVC and on The Oprah Winfrey Show (first in 2002, twice in 2007 and once in 2010). Her life story is featured in Extraordinary Comebacks: 201 Inspiring Stories of Courage, Triumph, and Success (2007, Sourcebooks).
In April 2007, Simon & Schuster published Deen's memoir, It Ain't All About the Cookin'. She launched a lifestyle magazine called Cooking with Paula Deen in November 2005, which claimed a circulation of 7.5 million in March, 2009.
Food Network and other televisionEdit
Deen's relationship with Food Network began in 1999, when her friend Erin Lewis introduced her to Gordon Elliott, who then introduced her to her current agent, Artist's Agency owner Barry Weiner. Elliott took her through the city for a series of Doorknock Dinners episodes. She also appeared on Ready, Set, Cook!. Deen was invited to shoot a pilot named Afternoon Tea in early 2001. The network liked it, and eventually gave Deen her own show, Paula's Home Cooking, which premiered in November 2002. Paula's Home Cooking was originally taped in Millbrook, New York at the home of Gordon Elliott, the show's executive producer. Deen mentioned in an on the March 13, 2006, edition of The Daily Buzz that the next batch of episodes of her show would be taped at her home in Savannah, Georgia. According to the first of those episodes, actual production at her new Savannah home began in November 2005.
Since then, Deen has been given two more Food Network shows, Paula's Party and Paula's Best Dishes. Paula's Party premiered on the Food Network in 2006 and Paula's Best Dishes debuted on June 8, 2008.
A televised biography of Deen was aired on an episode of the Food Network's Chefography program, in March 2006.
In December 2007, Deen teamed with Cat Cora and faced Chefs Tyler Florence and Robert Irvine in battle Sugar on the holiday special of Iron Chef America. At the end, Deen and Cora won.
Deen also helped Pat and Gina Neely get their first Food Network show, Down Home with the Neelys. During the summer of 2006, her sons, Bobby and Jamie Deen, featured the Neelys' Bar-B-Que Nashville location on their Food Network show Road Tasted. In September 2006, Paula ate at the Neelys' downtown Memphis restaurant and was impressed. In January 2007, the Neelys were invited to appear on Paula's Party, which eventually led to the Down Home show. In July 2008, the Neelys would also take over Road Tasted from the Deen brothers.
In May 2008, Deen announced at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show that she had signed a deal to host a talk show beginning in September 2009. Deen has appeared in public service announcements for Civitan International. On February 23, 2011, Deen appeared on the show Top Chef, and sat at the Judges Table.
From its debut on January 4, 2012, Deen has regularly appeared on her son Bobby's Cooking Channel series, Not My Mama's Meals. The series features healthier versions of dishes prepared by Deen on her various Food Network programs.
On July 17, 2012, Deen appeared on the FOX show MasterChef as a celebrity judge.
Check out Paula Deen's recipe page!