by Crystal A. Johnson
Gina and Pat Neely are the hosts of one of the hottest shows on Food Network since Paula Dean. Just how hot are they? The Down Home With the Neely’s launch episode was viewed by two million viewers, breaking all sorts of records for the network. The husband and wife cooking team are attractive, fun-loving and have people across the nation replicating their recipes like frozen lemonade pie. My personal favorite that has been a winner for me has been the creamed collard greens recipe. I got the opportunity to interview the Neely’s on the heels of their success. Here is what they had to say:
Crystal: I have to tell you that since your show is a family oriented show, ironically, I came to learn about your show through my cousin. She is in love with you. She said, “You have to see this Black couple that was on the Paula Dean’s show. Food Network has to give these people a show.” When it happened she was ecstatic and now she records every episode.
Pat and Gina laugh out loud.
Crystal: Shifting gears, what was your reaction when you learned that your show had the highest ratings on food network in five years?
Gina: I did my happy dance. You know I have many of those. I was just crazy. I couldn’t believe it.
Pat: Gina and I come from a restaurant background so when someone says I have the number one rated ribs in the country then I am dancing around, screaming and flicking lights on and off. When we got the news we were in the middle of a shoot. I was actually free and Gina was doing her own individual deal and the producers had her locked and loaded. I’m in the back taking it easy. I get a call from Food Network. They say, “Pat, we have great news. You broke all kinds of Food Network records. You had the number one show.” I am thinking, fine this a good thing. I didn’t get excited. I walk in after Gina and the producers are done. I call them in and say that Bob Tuschman(President) of Food Network just called and says we are the highest rated show in the past 5 year history. We broke all kinds of records. Our producers, grown men eyes well up. They get tears in their eyes and say, “This is like winning the Super Bowl.” Then it dawned on me what an accomplishment it was but if you don’t know that this that great then you don’t know how to respond.
Crystal: One of the most captivating things to see on the screen is your chemistry. It is one of those things that you can’t fake coming across the screen. How important is the image of a loving African American couple to you on TV?
Gina: It is vital. I can’t put enough emphasis on how important it is. We just don’t see enough of it. Now, when you look at a reality show there is so much negativity and so much craziness. It is a positive change to show African American love, how it really it is and what it can be…When you see all these other shows on TV, you get the preconceived notion that is how all of us are. It gives a chance to show what we believe and feel out to the masses. It is vitally important for our children to see it and every generation to see that it is possible. It is achievable. This is real.
Pat: One of the things that attracted the producers to Gina and I is that we are so original. We hear it all the time now that we are just naturals on television. We love the banter between the two of you. The best part of what you see on Saturday morning is that this is real. This is the same thing you would see if you came over to our house and Gina and I are cooking dinner. We are going to joke and jive. I am going to come from behind her and kiss her on the back of her neck. We are going to cook dinners together. What you see on television is really old news to Pat and Gina Neely. We’ve been doing that for years. It is great that it is received well on television but this is what is healthy for our marriage…After all these years together, she is still my best friend. Hopefully, people will watch and say “My wife and I have problems. Maybe this is something we can do together to bond.”
Crystal: You were successful prior to the launch of the show. You have restaurants and concessions stands. Where are they?
Pat: We run 7 concessions stands at the NBA arena here in Memphis. I guess for our sixth or seventh year. We sell a barbeque nacho. It is the number seller in the building. We have two restaurants in Memphis and one in Nashville. We have been in business 20 years…Gina and I come from very humble beginnings. One thing I remembered is that when I start making some money. I am going to help somebody. One of the best feelings in the world is to be able to give…Gina and I give 30 Memphis Grizzlies tickets away for every home game and we have for years. There is nothing better than when I get a big envelop with thirty letters from young kids and high school. You can’t beat the feeling when kids say without you I would not be able to afford to go to a NBA game.
Crystal: Wow, congratulations on twenty years of business and being able to give back. How have things changed for you since the launch of the show?
Gina: I feel more comfortable now. I feel excited. I can’t wait to tape now. I feel really good because it has gotten such great response from our community. My daughter and I were in a local store in our neighborhood, and this woman came up to me to tell me how much the show had affected her marriage. She said it saved it. I never knew how much a cooking show could impact people’s lives. It is really a blessing. I thank God for allowing us to share our testimony with the masses.
*Original interview for Black Hollywood News in 2008.