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Paula Ann Hiers Deen (born January 29, 1947) is an American cook, cooking show host, restaurateur, author, actress and Emmy Award-winning television personality. Deen resides in Savannah, Georgia, where she owns and operates The Lady & Sons restaurant with her sons, Jamie and Bobby Deen. She has published fourteen cookbooks. Though married in 2004 to Michael Groover, she uses the surname Deen, from her first marriage.
Deen was born Paula Ann Hiers in Albany, Georgia, the daughter of Corrie A. (née Paul) 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.
Books and magazines
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 television
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.
On June 21, 2013, due to a controversy regarding Deen's admission that she had used racial slurs during deposition for a lawsuit, The Food Network announced they will not renew her contract.
In 2004, Deen married Michael Groover (born 1956), a tugboat captain in the Port of Savannah, Georgia. Groover has two children from a previous marriage. The wedding was featured in a Food Network show in 2004. Their wedding took place at Bethesda Academy in Savannah. Paula is a supporter of Bethesda Academy, and asked Old Savannah Tours to donate $1 to the organization for each ticket purchased for the Paula Deen Store ticket sale. In January 2012, she announced she has had type 2 diabetes for the last three years.
Deen made her film debut in Elizabethtown, starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst in 2005. She played the aunt of Bloom's character, and her cooking was featured. A Food Network special, Paula Goes Hollywood, aired in conjunction with the film's premiere.
Awards and honors
In June 2007, Deen won a Daytime Emmy Awards (Outstanding Lifestyle Host) for Paula's Home Cooking. In October 2010, she was selected as the Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade, and presided over the 2011 Rose Parade before the Rose Bowl Game on January 1, 2011.
Deen has faced extensive criticism for the high amounts of fat, salt, and sugar in her recipes. She faced particularly strong objections with the release of Lunch-Box Set, a cookbook aimed at children, with Barbara Walters saying of the book, "You tell kids to have cheesecake for breakfast. You tell them to have chocolate cake and meatloaf for lunch. And French fries. Doesn't it bother you that you're adding to this?" Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain commented in 2011 that he "would think twice before telling an already obese nation that it's OK to eat food that is killing us."
On January 17, 2012, Deen announced that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years before, a disease for which a high-calorie diet is a major contributing factor. It was also disclosed that Deen is a paid spokesperson for the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, whose main export is insulin. She was called a hypocrite for continuing to promote her high-sugar diet while only disclosing her medical condition when it benefitted her in representing the drug company to market their diabetes management program.
It was alleged in a lawsuit brought against Deen by a former employee, Lisa Jackson, that "In the presence of Ms. Jackson and Uncle Bubba's restaurant manager and a vendor, Bubba Hiers stated they should send President Obama to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico so he could n***er-rig it."
According to the court documents, the plaintiff stated that she was appointed by Deen to handle the catering and staff for Bubba's wedding in 2007, and she asked Deen what the servers should wear; "Well what I would really like is a bunch of little n***ers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around," the plaintiff alleged Deen told her. "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 her deposition for the suit, Deen stated that she has used the "N Word" at times, saying "Yes, of course" she did, and also acknowledged making racist jokes, though she claims she is 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."
As a result of the controversy, Food Network announced that it would not renew her contract when it expires at the end of June 2013.
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