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Food Personalities

An Open Letter to Paula Deen

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Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 11:33 AM

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.

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.

Yours,

Jonathan Gold

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