Bobby Deen, son of Food Network star Paula Deen, came to Raleigh last week to cook vegetarian gumbo at a state employee health fair.
Deen, 42, was promoting the Diabetes in a New Light program of Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company with a facility in Clayton. His mother takes the company’s diabetes medication. Bobby Deen, his mother and his brother, Jamie, have worked as spokespeople for the company since January when Paula Deen revealed she has Type 2 diabetes – three years after she was first diagnosed.
The revelation caused an uproar, given her reputation for cooking over-the-top, fattening Southern food.
Bobby Deen visited our office to talk about that, and about his show on the Cooking Channel, “Not My Mama’s Meals,” now in its second season. He also shared his feelings about his mother’s biggest critic, Travel Channel star and chef Anthony Bourdain. Responses have been edited.
How do you respond to the criticism about your mother?
I don’t know if I really do respond to it. I’m not sure any of us do. My mother was diagnosed with diabetes. She shared it with us. She didn’t hide it from anybody. She just didn’t publically talk about it. My mother’s feeling was this: She’s aware that people admire her. When she did come out and say that she had diabetes, she wanted to do it with purpose. She wanted to be able to help people.
I don’t really pay close attention. I don’t see the good in that, really, to tell you the truth.
Anthony Bourdain said lots of bad stuff about my mom. That’s what he does to everybody.
I think my mother is an easy target because she’s really sweet. She has a great Southern accent that lots of people think is fake. It’s easy to pick on her.
What was your reaction when your mom told you she had diabetes?
I didn’t see it really as that big a deal. Lots of people have Type 2 diabetes and it’s a very manageable thing. It’s not as if she came to us and said, ‘OK, family, I have an inoperable, cancerous brain tumor.’ She said, ‘I have Type 2 diabetes, and I can’t really drink sweet tea anymore. I have to start exercising.’
She’s managing it very well. She’s begun to exercise. ... She’s lost about 30 pounds. She really looks great.
Did it make you think about changing your lifestyle?
Eleven years ago, I really dove into fitness and exercise. I run every day. I lift weights every day. I practice Brazilian jui jitsu. ... I began leading a lifestyle years ago that would hopefully keep me from contracting (diabetes). What is the aim of your show?
My idea with the show is to let people know: Healthy food doesn’t have to be bad. My mom has long said: If it tastes good, spit it out. It’s not good for you. And that doesn’t have to be true.
I take a lot of my mom’s recipes – that’s basically the premise of the show – taking family, traditional recipes and looking at them and saying, ‘OK. What are the culprits? How can we make this better for us?’ What I’m doing is not necessarily health food, it’s healthier food. If it calls for three cups of sugar, let’s try one ...
The phrase that came to me when we started the show was, ‘We’re kind of taking Sunday food and making it into Monday food.’ Food that you can just feel a little bit better about feeding your family on a daily basis.
I do want to say this because people have asked: My mother’s contracting Type 2 diabetes and my television show are completely unrelated. It is complete circumstance. This is my lifestyle and this is my show.
My mother just happens to be extremely famous. That makes people say, ‘Hmmm, you are doing a healthy show now? What’s the connection there?’ There really isn’t one. ... It’s happenstance.”