Say what you will about Paula Deen, Anthony Bourdain, but the woman can throw a party. The Savannah chef and TV personality packed 300 people into Hill Country on Saturday night for a “Down South Up North” dinner for the New York Wine & Food Festival. Wearing a pumpkin-colored jacket with hair as big as Texas, Deen and her entourage (bodyguard, sons, husband, manager, and PR person) snaked slowly through the crowd, stopping every foot or so for photos with fans. After 63 people, we lost count. “Call me Paula,” she yelled to a demographically diverse crowd of middle-aged women, Asian and black families, and gay couples. “Call me Paula!”
In a brief interview caught by dozens of flashing Canon Sureshots, Paula told us she wasn’t doing the cooking for the night, but that we were in good hands with a crew that included Art Smith (fine macaroni & cheese and hoe cakes), Chris Lilly (good BBQ-bacon wrapped shrimp), the Lee Brothers (sweet mint julep panna cotta), and Katie Lee’s meatloaf sliders. (Share Our Strength and Food Bank were the beneficiaries of the event; both organizations should net about $1 million from the NYWFF.)
Somewhere after the tray of Jagermeister shots arrived, a woman in the center of the room climbed on a chair and began swaying to Johnny Cash tunes. (No, it wasn’t us.) A fan arrived with a pile of cookbooks, and began dipping and curtsying to get Deen to sign them. (She did, of course.) When the tier of desserts came, someone snuck two carefully wrapped Hill Country banana pudding pies into a bag. (Okay, that was us.) We heard there was line dancing late into the night, but after drinking something called a “Hound Dog,” we passed.