Courtesy of Food Network Magazine
When Paula Deen throws a party, no one goes home hungry. And last fall, when she hosted her Down South
Up North party for charity during Food Network's New York City Wine & Food Festival, she outdid herself: She brought together six chefs with Southern roots to cook up a whopping 21 dishes.
"It's a blizzard of food," said cookbook writer and Charleston, SC, native Ted Lee, who, along with his brother and coauthor, Matt, was invited to cook. "Everyone has a different expression of Southern cooking. The South isn't one place; it's many places. This is a one-of-a-kind night." Southern cuisine, he added, varies from state to state and even county to county. "We're from Charleston, which is a port city," Matt said. "So our food has a lot of exotic spices in it."
Paula, who grew up in Georgia, describes her own food as "very honest, farmhouse-style" Southern cooking: "I think I remind people of when they had their feet under their grandma's table."
Cookbook author Katie Lee, a friend of Paula's and a West Virginia native, chose meatloaf sliders to show off her style of cooking, which she affectionately calls "hillbilly." Barbecue shrimp from Alabama pit master Chris Lilly and fried chicken from Chicago chef and Florida native Art Smith rounded out the meal.
The event went down at Hill Country, a New York City restaurant modeled after the barbecue markets of central Texas. "The barbecue in Texas Hill Country has a strong German influence," said executive chef Elizabeth Karmel, who served up dishes like smokies in a blanket (jalapeno and cheddar cocktail sausages in puff pastry) with a sweet-and-spicy mustard dipping sauce.
Paula played hostess for the night and left the cooking to her friends. "It's such an honor to be here. It takes my breath away," she said of the chefs' spreads.
While the chefs all call different areas of the South home, there was a clear bond between them. "We're connected to each other by our Southern-food ways," Smith said. "We'll always be connected as long as there's Paula to keep it sacred."
Photographs by Mark Peterson