Paula Deen is known for her Southern personality and cooking. She is the author of six cookbooks, publishes a lifestyle magazine called Cooking with Paula Deen and has her own TV show — “Paula’s Home Cooking” — on the Food Network. Deen’s Food Network program reaches 85 million viewers and her magazine and cookbooks are read by millions of readers.

Recently she has become a spokesperson for the pork industry. Although she promotes pork products for a specific company, her national appeal makes her an important stakeholder for all in the industry.

Q: You’ve recently teamed up with Smithfield. How or why did you choose that partnership?

A: They’re the best, hands-down. I waited a long time before I went into partnership with anybody or endorsed any product. The company has integrity and wonderful products that I’m not embarrassed to put my name on. The products also must be something that I use myself.

Our partnership is part of a growing national effort to promote the many benefits of having families share meals together several times a week. Our goal is to help meal preparers feel more confident in selecting cuts of meat for meals that take less time to prepare, are easy to make and are well balanced for family members.

Smithfield knows what they’re doing. They’ve got more than 50 brands and they make a heck of a lot more than just pork. They have beef and Butterball turkey products and they offer gourmet food products, too. They’ve got peanuts, specialty nuts and a whole line of sweets.

Q: Along with this partnership, do you feel it’s important to develop relationships with other food-industry or pork-chain sectors?

A: It’s very important. You want to operate in an ethical manner and like any relationship, it takes time. You have to learn where they’re coming from and vice versa.

You need a good rapport with your sales representative to know that he’s looking after you. I think you should know a little bit about the person’s background, as well as the background involving the pork products.

You need to know that animals are raised humanely and that the company goes above and beyond to keep everything clean and safe. Who would have thought that spinach would have given you E.coli? It goes back to cleanliness. It’s important that you can trust the producers of your meat.

Q: Do you work with certain suppliers for fresh pork products for your cooking show, restaurants and cooking schools?
A: Yes, we have a purveyor that we can depend on. You have to work with someone that won’t drop prices just to get your business or raise prices for no reason. It’s important to work with a supplier that will take care of any potential problems and stand behind the products. I don’t want a sales representative coming near me that only wants the money; the person has to care about me and the people I service.

Q: What qualities do you look for when you buy fresh pork?

A: I always check the freshness date. From there, it depends on what cut of pork I’m buying as to what I want it to look like. Some pieces I want fat on and some pieces I don’t. For instance, I look for fat on Boston Butt because I smoke those and the fat keeps them moist. I want tenderloins lean, with not much fat. Naturally, I check out the color; I want it kind of pink.

Q: Has pork changed over the years — for the good or bad?

A: Yes, for the good. When I was young and started cooking, I was told to cook pork until it was hard. Trichinosis was alive and well back then. Now, because of better food safety and processing protocols, we don’t have to cook it to death. Trichinosis is almost nonexistent. You can almost cook pork medium today as long as you get it up to 150° F.

Q: Can you talk about how your cooking shows and magazine reach different types of consumers, and how your new efforts may get more people to buy and use pork?

A: They’ve tried to do a demographic on me, and it seems to run from ages 2 to 92. I really relate to that woman in the home because I am a housewife. I’m not a chef, but I am a cook. I’ve cooked for my family for 40 years. My shows, my magazine, my books, everything I do, I encourage simple things — simple recipes because simple foods are the best.

I try to make recipes that are user-friendly so that you can go to the grocery store and find everything you need. Smithfield products are very user-friendly. Those products, such as hams and smoked pork chops, don’t have to be covered up with sauces or have the flavor enhanced to be delicious.

A key part of rounding up family members for a meal is preparing wholesome and nutritious food that children and their parents want to eat. When you combine my years of experience in the kitchen with Smithfield’s top-quality products, together we can whip up some meals that families can’t wait to share.

In addition to strengthening family ties, cooking meals at home gives parents more control over quality and quantity of foods. You can better control portions and your kids are more likely to try new foods.

Families are so busy today and time to prepare meals is limited, so the trick is to keep it simple, but at the same time make meals interesting and nutritious.

Q: What message would you liket to share with the pork industry?

A: Just work on keeping quality high and giving us the best product that you can provide. Keep price down and quality up, and we’ll all keep buying pork.
There ain’t nothin’ better than pig. The industry also needs to keep reminding consumers that pork is so easy to prepare, and that pork can do anything that chicken can do.

Q: What advice can you offer to pork industry decision makers?

A: They know their business and are on top of what’s happening in their industry. For example, I know that Smithfield is going to do whatever it takes to give consumers the best product.

My role is that I am the cook. I know good products when I see them. Smithfield and I have the same goals and desires.

We’ve almost lost a generation to fast food. Our hope is to bring that generation and more families back to the table by supplying them with products they can put together in a timely manner.