As many of you may know, Paula Deen recently held two live shows in Savannah as part of her “Paula Deen LIVE!” tour. I had made plans to attend long before her team reached out to me in late July, and I wouldn’t in my wildest dreams have imagined the events that followed.
The surprise came when I checked my food blog’s email account. The subject line read, “The Heart of Home Cookin’ Coming to Savannah, GA!” It was Paula’s social media coordinator requesting my presence in the Hostess City. Be still my heart. As a lifelong fan of Paula’s, you can imagine my excitement when I read these words:
To get right to the point, we came across your blog, “Some Kinda Good” — and we love it! Paula is so excited about her LIVE event, and she wanted to invite some of her biggest fans and supporters, specifically Southern bloggers and influencers.
Fast forwarded to Friday, Aug. 8, at the historic Lucas Theatre:
The evening I met the Queen of Southern Cuisine began in true Savannah style with cold beverages from the bar — pinot grigio for me and a Yuengling for my handsome date — and live music: a classic Ray Charles cover song, none other than “Georgia On My Mind,” performed by two talented guys with their guitars and perfect harmonies. They played two more songs, The Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” and “Chicken Fried” by The Zac Brown Band, perfectly appropriate before Paula Deen took the stage.
Then, there she was. After all the years I’d watched her on TV and imagined her voice as I read her books, there she was not more than 125 feet standing in front of me. She and her husband Michael came out dancing. Her son, Jamie Deen, tweeted a photo of that moment which read: “Seeing Mom dance makes me happy.” It did my heart good to see them too, resilient and carefree — a stark difference from what the media would have us to believe. Michael twirled her around on stage as the audience clapped, hooped and hollered. I must admit, I got a little teary eyed, and nearly patted my boyfriend’s kneecap off in excitement.
Her boys, Jamie and Bobby, trickled out sometime after that. I was so star-struck, I don’t remember them entering the stage. Immediately it was as if I was seeing an old friend, hanging out with Paula and her family in their living room.
There was no formality, no script to the show. Paula was the exact same in person as she is on television. When she spoke, she began recognizing faces in the audience, pointing out her new daughter-in-law to us all (Congratulations Bobby!), and acknowledging other friends and relatives who had come to see her. She is the personable, warm and sweet-spirited woman I have grown to know and love, oozing with Southern hospitality and authentic drawl. Right away she told us what we could expect from the show, with a funny interjection from Michael. Throughout the night, the tugboat captain was like a parakeet, chirping witty things whenever the moment struck.
The night was filled with great audience interaction. At one point, Paula called a Look-A-Like up on stage. We played “Deen There, Done That,” hosted by “Bobby Chewbanks” dressed in full costume, complete with a wig and an old-fashioned sport coat. Later, Bobby told us a funny story about his Grandma Paul (God rest her soul), who lived to be 91. He said she use to take her medicine with a pull-tab Budweiser Tall Boy.
Paula spoke to a packed house. I don’t believe there was an empty seat in the theatre. During the event, she cooked up three dishes with help from the family: a Georgia Peach Trifle, a Chicken Arugula Salad and Jambalaya. Next to meeting Paula, my favorite parts of the show were the short video clips they shared. We got to see how Michael and Paula met and even got an inside look and mini tour of Paula’s beautiful home on Wilmington Island. Her rags-to-riches story was shared, including a look back at “The Bag Lady” days. Many audience members had eaten those first lunches.
After the show, I got to meet and talk with Jamie and Michael. Jamie was as nice as he could be. He looked at my boyfriend, Kurt, who is born and raised in Savannah — and took a double take. “Don’t I know you?” Jamie said. Kurt replied, “I’m from Savannah. You may have seen me around.” Then Jamie said, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve poured you a glass of sweet tea or two.” It was classic. You can’t make this stuff up!
The moment finally came when I would have my chance to meet Paula. Much to her bodyguard’s angst, she was lingering on stage as hopeful fans stood at ground level to shake her hand and say hello. I received no special treatment; it was every man for himself. About the time I approached the stage, I heard her bodyguard say, “Okay, last one folks. Paula’s got places to be.” Panic set in. I couldn’t be in the same room with Paula and not at least try to get a photo. This opportunity may never present itself again! Just before she walked off the stage, I managed to jump in and snap three pitiful selfies. Only my eyebrows and forehead were visible in the pictures. I also handed her my copy of her book, It Ain’t All About the Cooking, and she quickly scribbled “Paula” on the inside cover. And just like that, she was gone. So close, but so far away. I thought, “Will this lady ever know how much she’s influenced me in the kitchen? Will she ever know it’s my dream to cook with her?” So much to say, so little time. I am a better cook because of you, Paula. Thanks for paving the way.
Four days later, I shared this very story on my blog. I tweeted Jamie Deen with the words, “I got to meet @JamieDeen and @PaulaDeen in @VisitSavannah at #PDLIVE, an opportunity I won’t soon forget.” Lo and behold, no less than 30 minutes later, Jamie Deen himself had read my post and tweeted me back to say, “@SKGFoodBlog I won’t forget you either! Come tomorrow night and I promise you that on stage photo.”
Jamie Deen is a man of his word. I got to experience “Paula Deen LIVE!” the second time on Friday, Aug. 15, just four rows back from the stage. When the show was over, I was escorted straight to Paula. I hugged her neck and almost became emotional, but kept it together and got my photo. I shared the picture, which received nearly 200 likes, on Facebook that night with the words, “Dreams really do come true.”
A T-shirt for sale in the lobby of the theatre read, “I’m getting butter every day.” Paula, your fans never doubted you would.
Rebekah Faulk is a Georgia food writer and Statesboro-based TV personality. A Season 2 contestant on ABC's “The Taste,” she blogs at somekindagood.org, a Southern, coastal food blog highlighting East Coast restaurant reviews and Low Country-inspired recipes. Follow her on Twitter at @SKGFoodBlog or search Facebook for Some Kinda Good.