By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Paula Deen certainly knows which side her bread is buttered on.
The Food Network celebrity spent more than two hours Wednesday thrilling fans by signing copies of her new cookbook, “Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible,” at Off Square Books in Oxford.
And she didn’t leave the building until every single one of them had been greeted, hugged or photographed with her.
“So nice to meet you,” “Hello, sweetie,” “Thank you for coming,” Deen said as she autographed each cookbook, then passed it down to her husband, Michael Groover, to sign.
Deen was 45 minutes late to the signing, but her fans didn’t seem to mind. More than a hundred of them packed the bookstore and a couple hundred more stood outside in temperatures that hovered in the 40s.
Each person in the crowd, from 1 to 321, was assigned a number and stood in line accordingly.
Cindy Russell of Germantown, Tenn., was No. 1.
“I called in August to reserve my book when they very first announced Paula was coming to Oxford,” said Russell. “But they didn’t tell me until yesterday that I was the first one. I’ve been a fan of hers for 10 years. I watch her all the time on TV while I’m working out. I watch her and then go cook what she has made.”
Judy Phillips, a hairdresser at Vogue in Oxford, took the day off so she could meet Deen and get two cookbooks signed.
“I rearranged all my customers so I could be here,” said Phillips, who was No. 18 in line. “I just told them, ‘Look, I’m not coming in today.'”
Ashley Blair, a senior English major at Ole Miss from Memphis and No. 208 in line, cut three classes to make the signing.
“I’ve been a Paula fan since I was 11 or 12,” said Blair, 21. “I’ve never met her before. I’m so excited.”
Deen, 64, joked with customers, kissed babies and made small talk with blue-haired ladies as one book after another was pushed before her for her signature.
“She’s so popular,” said Lyn Roberts, the bookstore’s general manager. “She should run for president.”
Deen, who lives in Savannah, Ga., is the star of three Food Network cooking shows – including the popular “Paula’s Home Cooking” – and the author of several cookbooks. She’s been in a movie, has her own magazine and spends much of her time on the road at speaking engagements.
“I’ll probably work until the day I die,” Deen said in an interview after the book signing. “I feel like I’ll never get caught up with everything I want to do. I want to leave a mark. I want people to know I’ve been here.”
Both of Deen’s parents died when she was a very young woman, and decades before she would become a household name.
“I know they would be so proud of me and happy for me,” Deen said. “I was a very poor student. I was very social. So I had to apologize to them on a regular basis for bad grades. I think they would be so incredibly shocked that their daughter has received some of the accolades that I have. They’d have to be in a state of shock – I know I am.”
While Deen is strictly associated with Southern cooking, she’s not afraid to try her hand at other cuisines.
“I’ll tell you what foods I’d like to learn and conquer, and that’s Asian food,” she said. “We love Chinese, Japanese and Thai. I hear there is really fabulous food in Vietnam. I’d really love to train under someone who has mastered that style. Their sauces are better to me than French sauces.”
Deen said the next project on the horizon for her is a clothing line. As to another cookbook, she’s just not sure right now.
“Life can change at the drop of a hat,” she said. “Who knows? I’ve asked myself that question, too. I don’t know if there might be a diabetic cookbook in my future. I’ve just got so much going on, I don’t know if there’ll be time for another cookbook.”