They met in the 1980's at Melrose High School, star-crossed sweethearts who lost touch after graduation. A 10-year class reunion, marriage in 1994, a thriving family barbeque business in Memphis – 20 years later, America gets to come "Back Home With the Neelys."
"We know our home folk in Memphis will really get a kick out of this third book," said Patrick Neely, one half of the superstar cooking couple in their own Food Network Show.
"Gina and I tell stories about our grandparents, stories we can all relate to. Along with our recipes are the stories we can remember growing up, memories on my grandfather's back porch over there in Orange Mound. Those are our roots. Those are our beginnings, and we want to always remember them."
Culinary creators and kitchen wizards Pat and Gina Neely put artistic twists on down-home Southern classic dishes in this new book, a recipe for success that put their first cookbook on the New York Times Best Sellers list.
"Today, we are more health-conscious about our food, but little has changed about those good, old Southern dishes that have been passed down through the generations," said Neely. "We could never have known that our business would take us this far.
"When we first opened more than 30 years ago with my two brothers, all I wanted to do was provide for my family, serve good food, and maintain a good quality of service. But God has a plan for each of us, and He helps us take advantage of opportunities put before us. It's great to be in a position to encourage others."
Neely believes the "real story" of the Neelys is not where their cooking prowess has taken them, but where they actually began.
"I remember just about every weekend, my grandfather would go back to 'the country' where their relatives lived," said Neely. "Our folks moved over in Binghampton and Orange Mound, but they would go back out to 'the country,' in Cordova and Eads. They grew huge vegetable gardens. Vegetables went straight from the garden to the pots in that small kitchen. That's how they lived. It was a way of life. My grandfather would come back with a trunk full of every kind of vegetable you could name, and loads of meat he would put in the deep freezer. That lasted three or four weeks. He would head back out to the country then.
"Although we lived in Whitehaven, I loved going to Orange Mound with my grandparents. That was back in the day when Orange Mound was Orange Mound. That was our community. We always loved Melrose, my brothers and I. My father had attended Melrose, and we wanted to go to. For us, there was no other high school in the city but Melrose."
The Neelys will kick off the April 8th release of "Back Home With the Neelys"
here in Memphis where their story begins.
"There will be three book signings in Memphis because we wanted to begin our book tour with our home folks," said Neely. "We are really excited about this book because we tell so many stories about our heritage and where we came from. Gina and I always love signing books and taking pictures with those who have supported us over the years.
"But more important than that is the tremendous opportunity to encourage young people. There are kids in the inner city or wherever with one parent or no parents – maybe being raised by their grandparents. They need to know that it doesn't matter about your beginning. God has a plan that can take you very far if we are willing to live by His way and do what is right."
Readers and Food Network fans can look forward to grilling and smoking secrets as well as baking and pickling recipes.
"All our grandmothers used to pickle. My grandmother would keep a jar of hot pickles on the table. When my grandfather would sit down to eat his dinner, no matter what it was, he would pour some of those pickles and that juice all over everything. Not a lot of people really pickle anymore. We want to bring that back."
The Neelys share 105 recipes in this new cookbook, including Small Batch Strawberry Jam (best when eaten with Mama Daisy's Buttermilk and Cream Biscuits), Bourbon French Toast, Crunchy Fried Okra, Grilled Succotash, Skillet Roasted Chicken, and Mama Rena's Brunswick Stew.
Upcoming book tour appearances include: "The Today Show," "The View," "The Queen Latifa Show," and "The Steve Harvey Show." Fans can contact the Neelys through their Facebook page, Down Home With the Neelys, and the Food Network will list the date and times of scheduled appearances.
Three scheduled Memphis book-signings:
Tuesday, April 8th
* 7 p.m.-9 p.m. – Barnes & Noble Memphis, signing, 2774 N. Germantown Parkway; On-site contact: Kendra Plischke-Van Zile, 901-386-2468.
Saturday, April 26th
Noon-2 p.m. – Sam's Club Memphis Store signing #6260, 8480 Hwy. 64, Bartlett, TN
Saturday, May 3rd
10 a.m.-noon – Kroger Delta Store, signing, 430 S. Mendenhall.