Dear Paula Deen:
When I heard Tuesday that you had been named Grand Marshal of the 2011 Rose Parade, my reaction was not a pretty one. And while I wasn't expecting the email response I gave Janette Williams, the Pasadena Star-News reporter, to be printed - I'd thought I was setting up a phone interview, I ended the note with the words "Maybe I'm better off not saying anything,'' and I never did talk to the reporter - I was quoted accurately. My words, which seemed to worm its way into reports of your triumph in newspapers all over the world, must have left a stain on an otherwise joyful day.
The media, the nested sets of information that range from Twitter feeds to Food & Wine to the Food Network, comprise a fairly odd beast, one that both implies intimacy with its stars and erects a kind of wall from behind which mudpies may be thrown. I despise, for example, the Boston Celtics, to the point where I have often wished grievous bodily harm on Paul Pierce or Rajon Rondo, yet I have no more actual animosity toward them than I do toward someone who happens to drive a Ford truck instead of a Dodge. It is easy to tilt at celebrities as symbols rather than as living, breathing people, and for that, I apologize.
I happen not to favor your brand of Southern cooking - the cookbooks I love best are those by Edna Lewis, Martha Foose, maybe Mrs. S.R. Dull, and my own Southern mother had her own, rather strident views on the subject. I have never tossed a can of cream of mushroom soup, a box of brownie mix or a package of cream cheese into anything I've cooked, and I'm not about to start now. I use neither seasoned salt nor bouillon granules. And your quip that Californians eat too much tofu and lettuce got on my nerves a bit, in the way that someone saying that Georgians survive on fried chicken and Moon Pies might get on yours.
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But our mutual friends say that you are delightful. You clearly love food. And I know that if we were to sit down together, we would probably get along just fine - I suspect that you, like me, could talk for an hour about the finer points of grits, or country ham, or pie crust without beginning to exhaust the topic. I realize that your recipes reflect the way people actually do cook in the South, rather than the way they think they should cook; that they skew toward getting dinner on the table as opposed to an Olympian ideal.
So what I should be saying, as a food person and a Californian, is, "Welcome to Pasadena.'' And if you need the address of a place to eat soup dumplings, tlayudas or charcoal-grilled hagfish, feel free to give me a call.