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The Neelys – Recipe for success!

November 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Cover Story, Feature

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

The holiday season would simply not be as joyous without the foods we love best. Few people understand this part of the American identity better than Patrick and Gina Neely, who have built a successful brand around the idea that indulging with family and friends is an integral part of how memories are built to last a lifetime.

The Food Network’s hit series, “Down Home with the Neelys,” invites viewers into the always-buzzing kitchen inside their Tennessee home. When the cameras are on, food is the main course. But the couple — high school sweethearts who spent a decade apart before reuniting at a 10-year reunion — also exudes a charming, unmistakable love for one another, reminiscent of the most beloved families in television history. The result is an intimate, familial quality that sets them apart in the crowded world of cooking shows.
“We received a call from a national television … show that wanted to feature our barbecue restaurant in Nashville, that my brother-in-law was running,” Gina recalls when asked how the show came about.

“At the time, we were in Memphis, and my brother in-law was going on vacation [but] we didn’t want to miss the opportunity for some national exposure. So, Pat and I came to Memphis to do the taping, and we had a great time. Thereafter, the producer asked if he could call us next week, and we said sure — not really thinking anything of it. The producer called and asked if we could do a pilot cooking show, and it was sent to the Food Network’s executives, who loved it — and we got our ‘Down Home with The Neelys’ television show. It was a blessing.”

The weekly Saturday morning platform left millions of new fans hungry for more information — about the Neelys’ food and their lives. Their first book, a New York Times bestseller that shares a name with the television series, “describes how Gina and I met, and how we have known each other for over 30 years,” Patrick says. “It truly is a Cinderella story.”

A new book, published this month, features recipes tailor-made for celebratory events. “‘The Neelys’ Celebration Cookbook’ is a celebration cookbook and a holiday cookbook,” Patrick explains. “Some people might automatically assume that the recipes in the book will only address the traditional holiday celebrations [like] Christmas, Easter, birthdays and Thanksgiving. We take it further and offer recipes for celebrations that are non-traditional — such as tailgate parties, loved ones returning home or movie night.”
With their imprint still expanding — they now have a partnership with Kraft Foods, and recently opened a restaurant in New York City called Neely’s Barbecue Parlor — they still consider family dinnertime to be an indispensable ritual. The proud parents of two girls, ages 16 and 22, the Neelys firmly believe that breaking bread together helps strengthen those most important bonds.

“I think it is essential to sit down and have your dinner together as a family,” says Patrick. “Unfortunately, in today’s society, we have gotten away from so many traditions that we grew up with — ones that really worked. At the time, I don’t think we were aware that it was working to help build the family unit. Our family never could afford to eat out, so we were forced to sit down at the dinner table together. Gina and I decided a long time ago that we wanted to have our family eat good and healthy meals. So we included our girls in the preparation process for our dinners, and that assured healthy eating and connection with the family.”

Their new book demonstrates a deep commitment to good nutrition. Throughout, it provides readers with more healthful options for preparing flavorful meals.

“You don’t have to always eat out,” insists Gina. “I know things get a little hectic sometimes, but try to choose the right things to eat when you do eat out. Consider having smaller meals. Maybe order two appetizers instead of an entire entree … when you go to a restaurant. Maybe have fried food once a week instead of three or four times a week. Use moderation and create a menu plan that will help you stay within your healthy eating guidelines. Our new cookbook offers [healthier] alternatives when preparing those foods we love best. Instead of frying, we suggest grilling or baking — with appropriate ingredients to keep the flavor.”

As we all look toward celebrating Thanksgiving, the Neelys see the holiday as an opportunity to enjoy familiar comforts.

“It is a wonderful time with family and friends, and Pat always accuses me of feeding the whole neighborhood … ‘Come eat, Come eat,’” Gina laughs. “We cook a variety of dishes, and my daughter always takes some dressing and hides it, because that is her favorite. If the weather holds up, we will use the grill for some marinated turkey drumsticks, along with our traditional menu of collard greens, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, turkey and ham — just to mention a few. We will have our old-school songs playing and doing the wobble, wobble dance in the kitchen while being teased by the children. The men will be watching the game and falling asleep after their meal, and the ladies and I will be cleaning up the kitchen and putting the leftovers away — if we have some. We keep our holiday celebrations very significant. It is our time to slow it all down and give thanks for all that we have. It is about being faithful and getting back to the basics.”

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