Vita Griffin of Raleigh didn't set out to be the Unhealthiest Cook in America, but when that dubious honor fell into her lap last month, she accepted it with a sense of humor and a resolve to change her ways.
The Raleigh mother of three was nominated when producers for the "Dr. Oz Show" starting looking for unhealthy cooks in January. Griffin, who still isn't sure who snitched on her, got a call from producers who started quizzing her about what kinds of foods she cooked and how she cooked them.
Before she knew it, the producers told her they wanted to send a film crew to her home, along with a plane ticket so that she could appear with Dr. Mehmet Oz on his show in New York.
Griffin was thrilled.
It wasn't until she opened her door to the film crew on a Sunday afternoon last month and came face to face with Jamie and Bobby Deen, sons of celebrity chef Paula Deen, that Griffin realized the magnitude of her situation.
"You won!" Jamie told her. "What did I win?" the shocked Griffin asked. "You're the Unhealthiest Cook in America!"
Griffin says she was too excited to be offended, but also admitted she thought Jamie was joking -- until she got to New York and saw the footage they filmed at her house.
"I wasn't upset," Griffin said. "I knew when they did the interview that I would be looked upon as cooking unhealthy."
Griffin, a big fan of Paula Deen, welcomed the Deen boys into her home that day, where they examined her pantry and fridge and showed her some better foods to make for her family. The brothers were also on hand when Griffin appeared at the taping for the "Dr. Oz Show" a few days later.
Griffin says when she visited the New York studios, Dr. Oz didn't fuss at her about her cooking style, but offered her good advice. "He told me before we came out that he thought the clip filmed at my house was hilarious. He did talk about the health side, but he didn't bawl me out."
Griffin, who works for a non-profit agency in Rocky Mount, says her husband and three children (ages 12, 10, 7) are shown in the taped Raleigh segment eating, but not talking.
"I had a lot of fun. It was a good experience and it was exciting for me."
But has the healthy eating intervention stuck?
"Yes," Griffin says. "I decided after the show that I was going on a health kick. In real life, I'm not as bad as they made me look, but I did say that I'm trying to stick with it. I'm eating no fried foods, no processed foods, no fast foods, and no sweets for the whole month of February. That's my kick-start."
She says her family is also on board with the healthy changes, though she isn't forcing total deprivation on them. They do get to have some of the "bad" foods, but in very limited amounts. "I think they're a lot more excited when they do have those days to eat what they want," she said. "They are also excited about losing weight and feeling great."
The biggest surprise of all could be the fact that Griffin's new healthy eating regimen includes lots and lots of ... barbecue.
You read that right.
Griffin's father owns Ben Jones' Turkey Barbecue in Everetts, N.C., so she gets lots of the healthy chopped turkey concoction from him and says it's delicious with everything. The Deen Brothers apparently agree. Griffin says they tried some while at her home and loved it. They even tweeted an endorsement of the stuff last week: "If y'all are ever in Everetts, NC, stop by Ben Jones BBQ and try the BBQ Turkey! Good food that's good for you!"
Griffin's segment on "The Dr. Oz Show" airs this Wednesday, February, 9. The show broadcasts locally at 5pm on WRAZ Fox 50.
Meanwhile, check out this recipe for Un-fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Biscuits that the Deen brothers shared with Griffin.