Not His Mama’s Table

Bobby Deen grew up on decadent Southern comfort foods. That's no surprise considering his mother's butter-loving ways.

But Bobby realized you don't have to have all the fat to keep all the flavor, and he's lightened up plenty of soul food favorites, from mac & cheese to fried chicken, in his new book, From Mama's Table to Mine: Everybody’s Favorite Comfort Foods at 350 Calories or Less.

Meet the Food Network star in Cary as he hosts a book signing on Feb. 12. He's also shared his recipe for Cajun Sliders, and took a few minutes out of his day to chat with Cary Magazine

CM: Some of the foods in your cookbook seem too good to be true at sub-350 calories. What’s the catch?

Bobby Deen: You trying to start something?

It’s not. That’s the feeling that you get. It’s because the recipes sound good, not like things that would be 350 calories or less. But I found that was a number we could hit. It’s right on that edge where you still have good flavor and good taste. The recipes in this book are very elementary things.

I find the major players that have a lot of fat and calories and try to dial them way back, or replace them with something else.

They are really honest recipes. Here’s the criteria that I wanted to hit: I wanted them to be affordable. Because let’s face it, in the times we’re in, nobody has a lot of extra money to spend. A lot of the foods that are cheapest are the ones that are not healthy. I also wanted them to be flexible and simple.

Is there a particular recipe that you think will really sell people on “lightened up” recipes?

I don’t love the idea of feeling like I’ve got to sell people on anything.

My mother was recently diagnosed with Type II diabetes. Through her diagnosis I have gotten to learn a lot more. The way people with diabetes have to eat is the way we should all be eating. There’s a lot of flavor in spices and seasonings. It doesn’t always have to be fat equals flavor. Yes, butter equals flavor. Mayo equals flavor. Sour cream equals flavor. But you can do the same thing with spices.

Being a Georgia guy, I love fried chicken and mac & cheese. I’ve got an alternative to fried chicken that’s an oven baked chicken recipe that mimics the taste of fried using unsweetened corn flakes. It gives the feel of a crust, and you’ve lost the skin entirely, which is where the fat is. I think my Yes You Can Mac and Cheese would sell some people too. I’ve just cut them back in simple ways, but a lot of the times we’ve cut the fat and calories by half.

Outside of the kitchen, how do you stay healthy?

I’m super active. As soon as we get finished talking I’m heading to the gym. I run every day, lift weights every day. I swim and practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who are active. I like to eat for the way that I want to feel, and I want to feel like I can continue the lifestyle that I’m living.

The relationship between food and exercise is a symbiotic relationship. It’s very much like a car engine, whatever you put in it is going to direct how it runs and behaves. When I started to embrace exercise it changed how I look at food.

I think we as human beings should live by the 80/20 lifestyle. Make healthy choices 80 percent of the time and you can enjoy yourself the other 20 percent. If my mama calls me and says, “Hey, son, come over. I’m cooking lunch,” I’m not expecting a healthy meal. But I’ll enjoy it.

Do you think there are any foods that just can’t be slimmed down?

I do, and I did (slim it down), but I kind of wish I hadn’t.

I’m sure we all have a food that reminds us of our childhood. My mama has a fantastic goulash. I lightened it up, but it’s not as good as my mama’s. I called her up and said, “I browned the meat and drained it off,” and she said “Stop right there.”

You’re all about healthy substitutions now, but we still have to ask:  How much butter do you go through in a month?

That’s a good question. I bet you not even a stick. Every time I buy butter, I go to the grocery store and think, “I wonder if I have any butter.” Then I buy some and I come home and I have a ton of butter in the fridge. I use more olive oil and canola oil. I don’t not eat it because I don’t like it. It sure is good!

Bobby's new book is on sale now. He will visit Cary Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. for a signing.
Barnes and Noble
760 SE Maynard Road, Cary

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