It seemed appropriate to receive, rather than a playbill, a sheet of recipes for Chocolate Pecan Cobbler and Pork Fried Pork Tenderloin Medallions with a Fresh Cherry Sauce -- at the "Paula Deen Live!" show Wednesday night in Shea's Performing Arts Center.
But the cooking was done by her sous chef, a dapper, good-humored man named Joe, with only a single contribution from Deen, who suggested that an extra half-cup of milk be added to the cobbler batter. Because Joe already had made the batter and put it into the baking pan, she poured the extra amount on top and urged him to mix it up. "We're gonna make it think it was in there earlier," she quipped, with the flashing, down-home humor that kept the crowd smiling for much of her nearly two-hour show.
From the moment Deen swept onstage, wearing black slacks and long-sleeved shirt topped with a sparkly, cream-colored jacket, her famous curly silver coif shining in the stage lights, it was clear she was beloved by the crowd.
In fact, much of the first half-hour was just repartee, with audience members calling out everything from, "I love you, Paula!" answered with a sincere, honeyed, "I love you too, baby!" to "I want to see you cook, Paula!"
Deen is usually accompanied onstage by her husband, Michael Groover, a ship captain whom she married in 2004 after her first, unhappy marriage left her bereft and suffering from agoraphobia.
This is how she broke the news to the adoring crowd:
"Usually my husband is here with me. "
"He's not here tonight!"
Deen was joined onstage by her friend comedian Leanne Morgan, whose Tennessee drawl competed with Deen's down-home Georgia inflections.
Morgan, a tall, blond, Sissy Spacek look-alike, quipped, "They're gonna listen to me and you and say, 'Good Lord, did we buy tickets to "Hee Haw"?' "
In fact, one audience member yelled, out, "Paula, pronounce the word o-i-l."
"Awl!" shouted Deen. "Awl! How do y'all say it? Oy-all?"
The near-sellout crowd, which may have been a quarter male, chose to see Deen rather than the Sabres playoff game, but Deen gave props to the hockey fans. Handed a Sabres jersey with the name Deen and the number 1, she shed the glittery jacket and pulled it on, after a brief moment of fretting about mussing her hair and then muttering every woman's fear, "What if I put it on and it's not big enough?" But it was, and she wore it for an hour, finally pulling it off after confessing, "I'm hotter than a bad girl writing a love letter!"
Along the way, she chatted with the crowd about local foods, including fried bologna and Ted's hot dogs, and took delivery of three butter lambs.
Before the show, in addition to delivering food donated by her sponsor, Smithfield, to the Food Bank of Western New York, Deen stopped at La Nova Pizzeria. There she sampled a steak and cheese sandwich, a steak and cheese sub, "some of the best baby back ribs I have ever put in my mouth," and "hot wings." "That's what made me kind of gassy," she confessed, and later, when she and Joe briefly convened to cook while Leanne took center stage to tell Deen's life story, Deen punctuated the narrative with a deep belch.
"She suffered from agoraphobia and very bad gas," Morgan ad-libbed, to the delight of the crowd.
Eventually, Joe baked the cobbler and the pork tenderloin, portioned it out and handed it to people near the stage. One young girl pronounced the cobbler "Fan-freakin-tastic."
It was that kind of a night, with an adoring crowd lavishing love on their kitchen idol, even if she spent more time quipping than cooking.
Wednesday night in Shea's Performing Arts Center.