Deen says she's ready to lighten up her cooking

By J.M. Hirsch/The Associated Press

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – A month after being widely criticized for revealing she has diabetes – as well as a lucrative endorsement deal for a drug to treat it – Paula Deen says she’s ready to show a lighter side to her famously fatty Southern-style cooking.

Just don’t expect her to swear off butter.

“I am who I am. But what I will be doing is offering up lighter versions of my recipes,” the longtime Food Network star told The Associated Press during an interview at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival on Friday.

“I will have a broader platform now, trying to do something for everybody,” she said. “But you know, I’m Southern by roots. I was taught (to cook) by my grandmother and nothing I can do would change that.”

Food Network general manager and senior vice president Bob Tuschman says the network is open to working with Deen to shape her show’s future. “The discussions for what that could look like are just getting underway,” he said.

The Food Network did not immediately respond to questions regarding Deen’s new approach or whether they were involved in the decision.

Last month, Deen drew the ire of many in the health and culinary worlds when she announced that nearly three years before she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Roughly 23 million Americans are believed to have Type 2 diabetes, a condition blamed in part on obesity and unhealthy lifestyles.

During those years, she continued to promote her butter- and bacon-laden cooking on television and in books and magazines, and to profit from lucrative endorsement deals with companies such as Smithfield ham and Philadelphia Cream Cheese.

But the harshest criticism was triggered by her simultaneous announcement that she also would be a paid pitch person for drug maker Novo Nordisk’s new online program, Diabetes in a New Light, and for its pricy drug, Victoza, which she takes.

Many wondered why she appeared to wait until she had a paying endorsement before revealing her diagnosis.

“Yes, I am being compensated,” she said Friday. “It’s the way of the world. It’s the American way. But I am taking a portion of that compensation and giving it back to the (American) Diabetes Association.”

Deen would not say how much she is being paid or what portion would be donated.

And she dismissed the idea that she should have announced her diagnosis sooner, citing her longstanding battle with agoraphobia.

“It took me 20 years to come out and stand up and say, `Hey, my name’s Paula and I’m agoraphobic,’” she said. “I was so ashamed, so embarrassed. So to do it in two-and-a-half years, I thought it was pretty good.”

Deen, who is 65, shrugged off the criticism – including by some fellow celebrity chefs – saying her fans have stood by her.

“I think a few people who have access to a TV camera and ink kind of wanted to hate on me for coming down with something,” she said. “But I so don’t worry about it.”

Deen lives in Savannah, Ga., where she ran a successful catering business, wrote a best-selling cookbook and opened an acclaimed restaurant, The Lady & Sons, before launching “Paula’s Home Cooking” on the Food Network in 1999. She won a Daytime Emmy as Outstanding Lifestyle Host in 2007, and has branched out to cookware, foods and furniture bearing her name.

Her recipes include deep-fried cheesecake covered in chocolate and powdered sugar, a quiche that calls for a pound of bacon, and a French toast casserole made with two cups of half-and-half and a half-pound of butter.

But Deen notes that food is only one piece of the diabetes puzzle – along with genetics, lifestyle, age and race – and emphasizes that she doesn’t eat like that every day.

Following her announcement last month, Deen said she had stopped drinking the sweet tea she used to sip all day and had taken up treadmill walking. On Friday, she told NBC’s “Today” show that she has been eating less and exercising more.

Deen also has been promoting her son’s take on healthy eating, Food Network’s “Not My Mama’s Meals,” which stars Bobby Dean making lighter versions of his mother’s recipes.

Though Deen said she last month wasn’t planning to change her approach to on-air cooking, on Friday she said that when she begins shooting new episodes of her show this spring, the recipes will offer something for everyone, including people who want healthier recipes.

But it may be a while before viewers see the difference. Because filming and production schedules are set well in advance, it could take up to two years before those episodes are aired.