Bobby Deen, host of the Cooking Channel’s Not My Mama’s Meals (and son of celebrity chef Paula Deen), has been traveling across the country for the Diabetes in a New Light campaign (brought to you by diabetes health care company Novo Nordisk) to demonstrate that diabetes management doesn’t have to stand in the way of enjoying life and delicious food. Bobby Deen was in town over the weekend at the Indiana Black Expo and shared diabetes-friendly recipes and cooking tips. Here’s what Deen told IM about his mom’s food, his TV career, and healthy living.
EMILY EROTAS: Was your mother’s recent diabetes diagnosis the motivation behind supporting this campaign?
BD: It’s funny. Novo Nordisk reached out to my mother about being a representative without even knowing she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. So it was a very natural fit. It was sort of a happy accident that they came together.
EE: What has been your favorite part about the campaign so far?
BD: A couple things, really. I enjoy meeting nice people who have a commonality with my mother with Type 2 diabetes. I try to live a healthy lifestyle and be active, so my food sort of goes along with that. But to put a “diabetic-friendly” label on particular recipes and food isn’t fair because this should be just what every person is eating. The obesity is so high in this country, particularly in the South, and I have a vested interest in getting people to be healthier. The whole thing has been really pleasurable. And through the campaign, I’ve been learning things from a culinary perspective that I didn’t know before.
EE: What are some healthy cooking tips that diabetics and pre-diabetics can use?
BD: Sodium, high fructose corn syrup, and processed foods are what trip people up. I always look at packaging. We can replace a lot of meats and sauces with different fresh vegetables. It’s really elementary and easy to do. I eat a lot of black beans and lima beans. When I can’t get them fresh, I’ll buy them canned. I always put them in a colander and rinse all that salt water off of them. And you know what, this is an old cliche and lots of people know it, but when you go into the grocery store, shop around the edges of it instead of going up and down every aisle and looking at everything.
EE: What was your motivation for recently starting your show, Not My Mama’s Meals?
BD: It was really organic. I wanted to be back in television desperately. My brother and I had a really fun show, Road Tasted, in 2006. It was a great fun show, but it was exactly what it looked and sounded like, which was we were in a different city all the time. My brother, Jamie, had just gotten married, his wife was pregnant, and this show was not conducive to a good marriage with kids. So he had to bail on that show. And unfortunately we came as a team, so we both lost the opportunity. This concept came naturally because I was already living the lifestyle—eating healthily, exercising, and using portion control. But we’re not wagging our finger in anyone’s face. We really just take traditional family recipes and just scale them back.
EE: When you’re converting your mother’s recipes to your own on the show, what’s the first thing that you look at?
BD: I look at all the ingredients to find out what the major “culprits” are. It’s so simple. You find everything that is potentially fattening and try to scale them back. And I’m working with nutritionists and we have real numbers, very real numbers, very real calorie counts, very real fat counts. The flip side to that is that we’re not acting. We’re completely exposed.
EE: So you started working out 12 years ago when you were 30. Was there a central event that drove you to change your habits?
BD: There was no revelation. It was a slow realization. I found myself working 12-plus hours every day, because we owned the restaurant. And I had just gotten so far away from any kind of exercise, any sort of caring about what I was eating. My whole focus was work.
EE: What is your first food memory?
BD: Burying my feet into a birthday cake when I was a little boy. I remember a Fred Flintstone birthday cake a couple of years later. Probably what I remember the most is growing up meagerly. So my mom cooked all the time. We never went out. I have this perpetual memory of my mother in the kitchen with cast iron skillets cooking delicious Southern foods. A milk jug full of sweet tea on the table and in the refrigerator at all times. Picking vegetables out of my grandpa Paul’s garden. My family and food go hand-in-hand.
EE: If you weren’t working in food, what would you be working in?
BD: I didn’t know that I would be in the restaurant business. I never knew. But I grew up in a really dysfunctional household. My father comes from a long line of alcoholism. And he was a functioning alcoholic my entire life inside of my family’s home. While my mother didn’t drink a drop, she was agoraphobic. There was no stability at all. We moved a lot. We had to be a tight-knit little family. My father has since recovered. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, and he’s turned his life over to God. He’s a completely different guy, and I’m so proud of him. When I was 18, my parents divorced and we moved to Savannah. I hated my mother and my father for putting me in that situation. Now it’s funny, because you never know how things are going to turn out. If my mother and father had not divorced, I probably wouldn’t be sitting right here with you now. It’s been such an interesting ride, and I still don’t have any idea where it’s going. And I think my mom would say this very same thing to you about herself, she never knew that she would be Paula Deen. So I’m just open to whatever happens.