01
Jul
13

7.1.13 … Natalie Dupree on Paula Deen: “It’s almost like a spoof of Southern cooking,”

“She did not invent the hush puppy,” said Therese Nelson, a New York chef and caterer who has worked in the South and writes a blog at blackculinaryhistory.com. “By being Southern, of course she has a right to represent. But there comes a point where reverence or respect for the heritage has to show.”

Ms. Nelson, like other students of cooking in the South, pointed out that slave cooks and, later, domestic workers who cooked for their own families and white employers developed most of the recipes that the world identifies as Southern.

Online, many commenters have accused Ms. Deen of hypocrisy for profiting from the work of African-American cooks, including those who work in her restaurants, while harboring racist attitudes toward them. “You got rich off the recipes of the slave women your grandfather owned,” read one Twitter message last week, a reference to the fact that Ms. Deen’s ancestors, like those of many white people in the South, owned slaves.

Still, some black chefs see Ms. Deen’s success as an inspiration.

“My heart goes out to her,” said Charlotte Jenkins, 70, a chef in Mount Pleasant, S.C., who said Ms. Deen’s accomplishment in building a business from scratch was something all Southern women could respect. “Even though her take on Southern cooking is different from mine.” Ms. Jenkins’s restaurant, Gullah Cuisine, emphasizes the coastal cooking of the Carolina Lowcountry. (The area embraced by the term “Southern cooking” is as large as France and Italy combined.)

Others gave Ms. Deen credit for showing some of the diversity and deliciousness of Southern food to Americans outside the region, where clichés of collard greens and fried chicken were often believed to make up an entire cuisine.

But her food has always made some Southern cooks squirm.

“It’s almost like a spoof of Southern cooking,” said Nathalie Dupree, the author of “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking,” a cooking teacher and food historian in Charleston, S.C. Ms. Dupree, 73, said that in her childhood fried food was a once-a-week treat, that rich desserts were served even less often, and that vegetables and grains like rice and grits made up most of what was a healthy, farm-based diet.

“That is not how the people I know cook, and that is not how the people I know speak,” she said.

Ms. Dupree, who is white, is especially incensed by the notion (advanced by many of Ms. Deen’s defenders) that whites who grew up in the segregated South routinely use racist language without attaching any significance to it. “I’m beginning to take umbrage at being lumped together with people who haven’t taken the trouble to learn what is offensive and what isn’t,” she said. “It puts the whole region back again.”

Ms. Dupree was referring to the recent gains made by what is called the New Southern Cooking, a high-end culinary movement that celebrates the ingredients of the region — but not the kind found in sealed bags at the Piggly Wiggly.

These chefs worship at the altar of the pre-processed, agrarian South, going to great lengths to uncover the culinary contributions of all the region’s early inhabitants: American Indian hunters, African slave cooks, Italian rice barons and French pastry chefs. “To me, our food represents the very beginnings of American agriculture, eating what is straight from the fields, straight from the sea,” Mr. Raiford said.

Many chefs who look at Southern food through this lens see Ms. Deen as neither an embarrassment nor an influence — in fact, they barely see her at all.

via Paula Deen’s Words Ripple Among Southern Chefs – NYTimes.com.


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