the kitchen reader: it ain’t all about the cookin’

by Stacy

On a bit of a whim a few weeks ago, I decided to join The Kitchen Reader, an online book club for food bloggers. Each month we read a food-related book, then each member posts their review on their blog on the last day of the month.

What I enjoy about book clubs is the opportunity to read books I wouldn’t normally choose myself and to hear what other people thought about the same material. The former point definitely applies to my first reading for the group, Paula Deen: It Ain’t All About the Cookin’. One shiny new San Diego library card in hand and off we go!

If you’re not familiar with Paula Deen, she hosts a handful of shows on the Food Network about Southern home cooking. A common joke about Paula’s recipes: take a stick of butter, and mix it with some butter, then fry that in butter, and pour some butter on top. It Ain’t All About the Cookin’ is her autobiography, published in 2007.

I had heard of Paula and possibly seen a few parts of her show, but didn’t know much about her and don’t consider myself a fan. Southern cooking is more foreign to me in some ways than most international cuisines. After reading her book, I still wouldn’t consider myself a fan. While the book is an interesting glimpse of her life, motivations, perseverance, and some business tips, it didn’t make me like her. Respect, perhaps, but not like. Perhaps if I had already been a fan I would have felt differently, but with the book as my first major exposure to her, she didn’t win me over.

The book documents her growth from birth to a forty-two year old divorcee. That’s when she starts a catering company selling bagged lunches made in her own kitchen with $200 and the reluctant help of her two sons (don’t worry, it turned out OK for them). Catered events led her to open her first restaurant until that lease ended, propelling her to a larger space in partnership with her two boys in their still-popular Savannah restaurant, The Lady & Sons.

From there, her success translates into several TV shows, best-selling cookbooks, appearances on Oprah, sponsorship deals and cookware, and a second marriage. It’s a pretty impressive curve from the beginning of her story. The ambition and hard work that resulted in her success did not make for a fun and friendly lady. While her honesty is appreciated (and she never sugar-coats the challenge of succeeding in the food business), it isn’t always personally endearing.

When we catch up to her present life she veers into a few chapters on how she managed to open her restaurants. She gives advice that is cautious and encouraging, but shows that it’s hard work and not for everyone. I thought those chapters were interesting, but the transition was a bit rough.

Overall, I thought the book was an interesting peek into the story of someone I didn’t know much about. Part of her charm is her unrepentant Southern-ness, but I got tired of the colloquial chatty writing after a while. The book was toned down from the introduction, and her personality definitely came through, but it was a bit much at times.

If you’re a Paula Deen fan, it expounds nicely on her short biography found online. If you’re a fan of Southern home cookin’ check out her cookbooks. If you’re neither of those… skip it.

Do you like food and books? Consider joining The Kitchen Reader!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Bridget February 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm

A very well-written review! On a book I have no interest in reading.


stacy February 28, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Hahahaha, thank you! That seriously made me laugh out loud. I’m really looking forward to the next few books, though!


Jill February 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Welcome to the group! I didn’t know much about Paula Deen before I read this, and now I know more than I wish I did! I thought it was an interesting drama though. She really turned her life around. I wonder what her boys would have ended up doing if she hadn’t paved the way for them.


katiebug February 28, 2010 at 6:54 pm

I live in the near South, and I’ve got to say, the place is a mystery to me. One of these days, when I’m good and started with my dissertation, I’m going to a South road trip (to Charleston, Savannah, etc.) just get the place sorted out. ; )


stacy February 28, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Take lots of photos and keep me posted! ^_~


Karen February 28, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I believe it is true that this book would not appeal to those who aren’t familiar with Paula Deen or her approach to Southern cooking. She definitely doesn’t compromise her roots or her personality in this book!


stacy February 28, 2010 at 7:09 pm

That’s what I thought was so interesting about the disparity of opinions. =)

The story was at least interesting, and I respect her honesty, openness and hard work. Maybe I’m just lacking in the wacky Southern aunt department!


Margaret February 28, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I still haven’t decided if I liked this book, or even if I enjoyed it. Her Deep South is not my Deep south, but….

Good review.


Evie February 28, 2010 at 10:15 pm

When I first saw her on the food network (I totally typed foot network… eww), I didn’t like her very much… but her personality is kind of addictive in a way. She’s like the grandma you wish you had, feeding you butter fried in butter. Now I kind of love her, not that I actively seek her out and watch her show, but I totally will watch a while if she’s on and I’m channel surfing. Alton Brown is still my man tho.


Cakelaw March 1, 2010 at 3:45 am

I enjoyed your review – welcome to The Kitchen Reader.


Paulette March 1, 2010 at 5:59 am

It’s funny about Paula, most people either love her or NOT. There’s not really an in-between with her. Being from the South, I love to watch her, she entertains me. I totally respect her and am in awe of the way she turned her life around, she had a lot of issues to overcome.

I have to admit I watch her cook, but don’t use her recipes. They are not healthy at all, but they remind me of my grandmother. I did read that one of her books was the #1 ‘Worst for your health’ type book last year.

Thanks for the review.
Savannah is a really, really different world, so if she doesn’t seem like a typical Southerner, it’s probably the Savannah difference. Savannah is absolutely incredible, I would recommend going to anyone that gets the chance.


Jennifer March 8, 2010 at 11:17 am

Forgive my slow response-I was on vacation when we all posted our reviews-my google reader might very well explode!

This book was indeed a very interesting peek into the life of a Southern icon! Some things I could have done without, though.

Welcome to our group!


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