As you probably know, I don’t spend my days just cookin’ in the kitchen. There are shows to film, recipes and articles to write, and more travel than you can imagine. I’m not complaining. All that travel takes me places I never would’ve gone and introduces me to wonderful people I never would’ve met. Last month I spent a week on the Paula Deen Cruise with my fans aboard the most beautiful cruise ship. And in October I traveled across the country—in a bus—to promote my new cookbook, “The Southern Cooking Bible.” In between those adventures are flights to countless television appearances in just as many cities, from the smallest TV stations to the “Today Show” in Rockefeller Center.
All those television spots can be a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of waiting around. First, you’ve got to “get your face on” so you don’t scare anybody. And, honey, the older you get, the longer it takes—usually 2 to 3 hours! But the producers of these shows—especially the ones at the big networks—always have it in the back of their mind that a flight is going to get delayed and that a guest isn’t going to get there in time. So they always want you there early. And if I’m scheduled to do a cooking demonstration, they’re going to want to take me out on stage and go through a rehearsal just to get me familiar with where everything is. That way I don’t spend half my time asking, “Where’s my spatula, y’all?” It’s not easy cooking in someone else’s kitchen, especially when millions of viewers are watching.
Not that I get nervous anymore. You do anything enough times and it becomes as natural as breathing. But it wasn’t always that way. Public speaking used to paralyze me. I quit going to Sunday School because I was so afraid that they were going to call on me to read from the Bible. We would go in a circle and take turns and as it got closer to my turn, my heart would beat so hard that I was afraid I was going to hyperventilate. Eventually I said to myself, You know, I’m just gonna quit going. I’m not gonna put myself through that. That seems like a lifetime ago.
These days I manage to relax and rest some while I’m waiting on set. They put you in these little waiting rooms called “green rooms” that are furnished and set up with all kinds of snacks, coffee and sodas—anything you could want—and I’ll sit there and play “Words with Friends” or “Freecell” on my iPad. Not everybody has their own green room. It’s kind of funny, because when you’re first starting out and you haven’t paid your dues, so to speak, they have a big green room where everybody’s huddled together like cattle. But as you get a little more well-known, they’ll move you to a private green room.
Sometimes, they even give you gifts. I always love getting Oprah’s gift. Who wouldn’t? One time she gave me a big ol’ “O” bag, and I adore that bag. I have toted it everywhere I’ve ever been. So I always look forward to a gift from her because it’s something that she loves so you know it’s something that you’re going to love too.
But I have the most fun on the Tonight Show ‘cause Jay Leno is such a bird. This one time I was in my little green room and I was tired so I laid down on the sofa and shut my eyes. And all of sudden there was a big ol’ man on top of me! And it was Jay! It was like he was trying to kiss me or something like that! He really caught me by surprise that afternoon.
So in spite of all that waiting around, it can be a lot of fun too. And when it’s calm and quiet, I like to take a moment to myself to appreciate how a scared young lady from a little town in Georgia has come so far.