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SUPPLY—Paula Deen breezed into Brunswick County this past Saturday, charming locals and out-of-towners as the Georgia-born cooking star took part in a scholarship fundraiser for Brunswick Community College.
“Hello, y’all,” the Food Network star greeted upon entering a $500-per-person VIP luncheon in the Virginia Williamson Event Center of Odell Williamson Auditorium, attended by a limited guest group of 60.
With magnolia-sweet graciousness, Deen and her husband, Michael Groover, then posed for photos with each guest before settling down at the head table with BCC officials and others on hand to welcome the celebrity couple.
Each guest was feted with autographed copies of Deen’s new “Southern Cooking Bible.”
Sea Trail resident Pat Sutton, seated at one of the tables adorned with centerpieces of blue hydrangeas and Granny Smith apples topped with Paula Deen whisks, felt like a child in “Willy Wonka.”
“I feel like I’ve won the Golden Ticket,” she said. Sutton won a ticket to the luncheon about a month ago in a drawing at a Sea Trail Garden Club fashion show.
“I was so excited, I about jumped out of my skin,” she said.
Beth Lee and Rhonda Childress, seated at the same table, had flown in from Alabama to see their idol Deen. And 12-year-old Catherine Cheatham of Shallotte, who hopes to open her own bakery, sat at the table with her “Mimi,” her grandmother Sandra Hamilton of Benson.
Lee noted the iced sugar “Paula cookies” at each plate bearing Deen’s likeness were “too pretty to eat.”
Catherine, a student at Shallotte Middle School, handed Deen one of her business cards for her future Butterbean’s Bakery as Deen exited the room to get ready for the chefs’ cooking competition in the adjacent auditorium.
“When I was your age, I couldn’t tie my shoes,” Deen told the seventh-grader after reading the card, and she gave Catherine a hug.
“You’re going to be a real winner,” Deen said.
Proving she’s all about food and fun, Deen then hit the stage for the second segment of the day, a chefs’ competition in Odell Williamson Auditorium.
Greeted by cheering, whistling fans, Deen strolled onstage as Hank Williams’ “Hey, Good Lookin, Whatcha Got Cookin?” played in the background.
Three area chefs took part in the “Cooking for Paula Deen Cook-off.” They included Matt Kahr of Port City Chop House in Wilmington, Eric Masson of The Brentwood in Little River, S.C., and Jonathan Yuricek of Twin Lakes Seafood Restaurant in Sunset Beach.
Amid more cheers and applause, Deen also introduced her husband, Groover. Deen then told the story about someone who once mistook Deen for his mother.
“Michael’s always teasing me,” she said.
During the cooking competition, Kahr orchestrated preparation of fresh local flounder dusted with cornmeal breading served with tomato, scallion and butter sauce.
“Nothing smells better than hot onions cooking—maybe bacon,” Deen said, drawing laughter.
Deen flirted with Masson, who introduced his “Southern cooking with a French twist,” fresh local black grouper and risotto with lobster dish speaking in his French accent.
“You’re French?” Deen said. “Oui, oui.” If she could do an accent, she said it would be his.
Masson responded if he could do one, “it would be yours, too.”
“I love all the sauces that you do in France, versus our gravy,” Deen said, drawing more laughter.
Yuricek prepared an Eastern European dish he grew up eating as a child, halupki, giving it a local flair using Carolina crab.
BCC president Susanne Adams assisted the chefs as they prepared their competing dishes.
As the competition ensued, Deen took part in a question-and-answer session with the audience. A heart patient wanted to know if any books with “heart-healthy Southern recipes” were coming out soon.
“I don’t know,” Deen said, drawing laughter. “The Heart Association may have one.”
Deen also announced her younger son, Bobby, has been filming a new TV show.
“He’s going to be on the Cooking Channel, y’all,” she said. “And I think the name of his show is ‘Not Yo Mama’s Recipes.’ Because Bobby chose a little different lifestyle for himself.”
She said he’ll take her recipes and cut them anywhere from half to two-thirds the calories.
In response to another question about whether there’s a difference between butter and margarine, Deen responded, “I don’t want to badmouth anybody. I believe in live and let live. But I just choose to eat the real thing if I’m given a choice. I’ll always choose butter because somebody told me that margarine is one molecule away from being plastic.”
Following Deen’s taste-test and judging of the cooking contest, Kahr was named the winner.
“Out of this world,” she said of the finished dish.
During an interview, Deen said she’s on a book tour that started two days prior in New York City. Brunswick County, she said, was her third or fourth stop.
“We’re all over the place,” she said, adding they’re going to travel the eastern U.S. on her bus before winding up in Dallas, then fly for the rest of the tour.
“Most days I don’t know where I am,” Deen quipped, adding things are fine as long as she’s “waking up on the right side of the dirt. You know what I mean?”
She said her new cookbook, “Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible,” is dedicated to her three grandsons in hopes it will serve as a handbook for them in the future.
“I want them to know who they are and never forget their roots,” she said.