Bobby Deen Dishes on Starting Out in the Biz, His Show, and Life With Paula

Categories: Food News
Paula Deen via Twitter
Paula and Bobby Deen: mother and son sticking it to the tabloids.
Being a famous chef has its ups and downs. On the plus side, you ride in private jets, write cookbooks, host television shows, and generally have a really good time. On the minus side, publications write lots of crap about you (and yes, we put ourselves in this bracket).

Usually celebs let these stories pass, since the following day they're usually forgotten, anyway. But sometimes, a celeb feels the need to comment, like in the case of Paula Deen, who tweeted a picture of her and son Bobby on a jet, looking like quite the happy family. Her caption simply read, "You can't believe everything you read, y'all."

We spoke to Bobby Deen recently about his Cooking Channel show, Not My Mamma's Meals, how he learned to love the restaurant industry after years of struggling with it, and life with his famous mom, who he seems to like very much, actually.
Clean Plate Charlie: You have a successful family restaurant and your own show on Cooking Channel, yet there was a time when your family had nothing. How did your family turn itself around?

Bobby Deen
: We come from pretty humble means and there wasn't a lot to speak of. We didn't have any money, but mom had a great idea that we should start a fresh food business. She couldn't do it all on her own, so she has us boys going door to door. We were in our house doing what we had to do to survive. We didn't have a business license to begin with and we were desperate to make ends meet. My mom was preparing food around the clock that couldn't go to waste and if she made it, we had to sell it. So we would go to doctors offices and lawyers offices in Savannah and we would sell them this really delicious fresh fare that Paula Deen had just made -- only no one knew who Paula Deen was.

What did you sell at that point?

The food had to be packaged cheaply and it couldn't take up that much space, so we had these 6 x 6 containers. Mama did pasta salads, fruit salads, we did a poet's lunch which would be half a pimento cheese sandwich and half an egg salad sandwich with a cup of soup on the side. She would do lasagnas. Ii wasn't exactly what our restaurant is known for now. The Lady and Sons is known for traditional southern dishes - fried chicken, collard greens, and cobblers. Fortunately mama was creative enough to get outside of traditional southern food.

How did you go from working from your home to opening a restaurant to having it thrive?

We had some things on our favor. First, we were in a city that is very historic. There are lots of visitors. My mother was smart enough to know that we had to be in the center of the historic district, where there were lots of visitors. My mom and my brother and I are just workers. We worked our butts off and we worked every day. We treated everyone with kindness and we made really good food in a clean restaurant and if you do all that then you can be successful in the restaurant business. I will say that I am from Albany Georgia. I still have family there and if we had opened that restaurant in Albany, we would would probably still be in business but it would have been very different. We were just given opportunities and we took advantage of every one that came our way.

With all that success, at one point you wanted to get out of the family business that you helped to grow. Why was that?

It's better now than it was then. At the time, it was miserable. I didn't know that this was going to be my future and we were chugging along. It took ten years for me to have faith in this business. Yes, there were times when I wanted to be out of it . You get burned out. It is a hard, hard business. I recommend that everyone wait tables at some point in their lives, just to know how hard it really is.

My  father is a wonderful man who I have a great relationship with to this day and I'm very proud of him, but I grew up in a dysfunctional home. My father battled alcoholism for my entire life growing up. He's now clean and sober and that is great. But my parents' marriage was horrible. It was not the type of home for kids to grow up in. When my parents divorced, my mom was left in Savannah right next to destitute. I didn't see a bright future. But now we're living the American dream.  And 30 was a watermark in my life.

What happened at 30?

That's when I began to really have faith in the business. Until then I didn't feel good, I didn't look good. My feet were really nailed to the floor of the restaurant. But then I really started to embrace exercise and it really changed my relationship with food. It changed what I wanted to eat.

How did that affect your relationship with your Mother, who's famous for her decadent meals?

Of course there's balance. Look, if my mama makes dinner on Sunday, I'm going to go eat and I'm going to have exactly what she's serving. I live the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of the time I'm really hard on myself but 20 percent of the time I enjoy myself. You only get but one life, so I live it and I enjoy it.

Why did you want to do Not My Mother's Cooking?

The show is very organic. It's very natural. It's what I am. There's nothing going on that's untrue. I want to be nothing but positive because I am having an absolute blast making it.  I'm in new york so there are lots of great places to go and lots of guests that are interesting and fun and share a culinary background.

Any appearances by a famous mother, perhaps?

You'll see a lot of my mom because it's important to me that the viewer get some credibility on the food. My mom tastes everything that I make. Every recipe that I make gets shipped to her and she gives the thumbs up or down on my dishes.

Your show is all about healthy eating and your mom is known (and has been called out) for her use of butter and sugar.  Does your show have anything to do with the fact that your mom was diagnosed with diabetes? Is it some kind of answer?

The idea for the show and my mother's diabetes are all unrelated. I was interested in doing this show since I was 30 and I'm 42 now. At first I didn't like the title of the show because I didn't want to come off as wagging my finger in anyone's face, especially my mother's I am not disparaging my mother's food or my southern heritage, but I wanted to try to make those dishes a little lighter.  I'm taking Sunday food and turning it into Monday food. It's food that people can feel a little better about feeding their family on a daily basis. Does that mean I will never have fried chicken and collard greens and sweet tea and peach cobbler? No it does not mean that at all. It just means that life is about balance and portion control and we're becoming a more educated society in every way.

Your mom is taking a healthier approach to eating, as well. Is she learning from you?

My mother has become very active in taking care of herself. She lost almost 40 pounds, and she exercises. I am very proud of her. It's just happenstance. It's all just kind of chance.

You'll be in South Florida for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Where can we find you?

I have friends in Miami and I look forward to it. It's such a laid back fun event. I go out in South Beach with my friends and I know I'll eat at Joe's Stone Crab. We stay at the Loews Hotel, so if people want to see me Ill be there and at the Q event. I'm really accessible. I'll just be walking around.

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