Humble is the best way to describe Bobby Deen, son of Food Network superstar Paula Deen. He’s simply not one to take success for granted.
Forever grateful to his mother for introducing him to a career in the food industry, he’s proud to be paving his own way these days, with his popular Cooking Channel show Not My Mama’s Meals and the release of his first solo cookbook, From Mama’s Table to Mine (Ballantine Books; $22).
When Scripps gave me the opportunity to have my own show on the Cooking Channel, I jumped into it with both feet. We’re on Season 3, and I’ve got 36 shows finished, sometimes shooting two a day. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done, he said.
But that his success is built on blocks of struggle is something that will never leave him, and he said it’s that that ultimately has shaped the man he is today.
There was a lot of instability in my family. My father struggled with alcoholism, and my mother was an agoraphobic. We moved from Albany, Ga., to Savannah, Ga., when I was a senior in high school, and I thought it was the most horrible thing that could ever have happened to me. I hated my parents for that. Then they divorced, and that was like the icing on the cake. I hated everything and everybody ... (yet) had those things not happened to me, I would not be having this conversation with you right now. It’s a complete cliché to say that blessings come cloaked in different colors, but what we live through truly does shape our lives, he said.
He’s also the first to tell you that what you eat shapes your body. But he doesn’t just preach the gospel, he lives it.
I’m 42 years old and at 30 we had been in the restaurant business for more than 10 years. We were the cheapest labor there was, so we were working 15 to 17 hours a day. One day I looked at myself and thought, I don’t look good, and I don’t feel good. Not only do I want to take care of this family business that we have built together, but I need to take care of myself.’
He started an exercise regimen, connected with personal trainer and close friend Sam Carter, took interest in learning how to prepare flavorful foods with less fat and sodium, and got himself in shape.
I learned balance, but I did not turn my back on my heritage. Our body is very much like a car engine. What you put into it determines how it operates. I am mindful of that, but that doesn’t mean that if Mama calls and offers to feed me peach cobbler, fried chicken and sweet tea that I will turn it down. I will always gather with my family and enjoy a traditional family meal, he said.
However, during his day-to-day life, what he eats is reflective of what’s in his cookbook – Southern classic comfort food that weighs in at 350 calories or less.
I like to say that I have taken my Mama’s Sunday food and turned it into Monday food; something versatile, simple and affordable, he said.
The book contains 120 recipes, each featuring a dietary breakdown that estimates what the calorie count would have been without healthy substitutions and what it is with his substitutions.
There are plenty of desserts featured, too, including a low-calorie version of his mother’s ever-popular Gooey Butter Cake (his is titled Gooey-less Butter Cake).
Until recently always near his side, brother Jamie Deen has scaled back his travel, spending more time helping to oversee the Lady and Sons Restaurant in Savannah and to spend quality time with his wife and two young sons. That has freed Bobby to do more traveling.
We are in two different places in our life. He wants to be in Savannah near his family. I have never been married, and I don’t have children. I had a conversation with him and told him I needed the flexibility to explore my options. He is very supportive of me, he said.
And it’s nice to have family in your corner when others’ criticisms are flung your family’s way. His mom endured a lot of heat about her cooking methods when it was revealed she is diabetic.
I do my best to not hear any of that. In other words, I’m not on the Internet a lot. There is a lot of opinion out there, and I listen to people that I like and trust. I believe in doing the right thing, and all I can control is me, and beyond that you have to let the chips fall. If you listen too closely to your naysayers, you are doing yourself a disservice. And if you listen to those that tell you how great you are, that is equally as damaging. Nobody is perfect, and I believe everybody falls some place in the middle.
The following recipes are from his book.
1 pound ground turkey
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs (from 2 slices light whole-wheat bread)
1/2 cup finely chopped Vidalia or other sweet onions
1/3 cup grated carrot
1/4 cup 1 percent milk
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
To make meatloaf, combine turkey, breadcrumbs, onion, carrot, milk, tomato sauce, egg, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper in large bowl. Mound mixture onto prepared baking sheet, patting into loaf shape with your hands.
To make topping, combine ketchup, brown sugar and mustard. Spoon topping over meatloaf using the back of the spoon to spread it evenly.
Bake for 45 minutes or until meat is no longer pink on inside and is cooked through (165 degrees). Let rest 5 minutes, then slice and serve. Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional values: 216 calories, 2 grams fat, 32 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 775 milligrams sodium.
Bittersweet Chocolate Cheesecake
1 cup finely crushed chocolate wafer cookies
2 tablespoons plus 2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2 packages (8 ounces each) fat-free cream cheese (or use low-fat; optional), softened
1 package (8 ounces) low-fat cream cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt (or use low-fat; optional)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Fat-free whipped topping (or use light; optional), thawed, for serving
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9-inch springform pan lightly with cooking spray.
In small bowl, combine cookies, 2 tablespoons of sugar and butter. Press mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate in the microwave on medium heat for 10-second intervals, stirring between each round, until the chocolate is melted and smooth.
In bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheeses, the remaining 2/3 cup sugar, melted chocolate and salt. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, then beat in the yogurt and vanilla.
Pour batter into prepared crust. Bake about 1 hour or until filling is almost set. Cool completely on a wire rack at room temperature, then place in the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour. Gently remove from the springform pan and serve, with whipped topping dolloped on top. Makes 16 servings.
Nutritional values: 248 calories, 12 grams fat, 9 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 311 milligrams sodium.