• Army Corporal Joel Heredia and his wife Tonya get cooking tips from Food Network star Paula Deen and her husband Michael. The Queen of Southern Cuisine's visit prior to the Washington Nationals win over the New York Mets May 19 was part of the team's season-long initiative to honor troops and their families.

    Paula Deen helps families cook up fun

    Army Corporal Joel Heredia and his wife Tonya get cooking tips from Food Network star Paula Deen and her husband Michael. The Queen of Southern Cuisine's visit prior to the Washington Nationals win over the New York Mets May 19 was part of the team's...

  • Army Corporal Joel Heredia and his wife Tonya enjoyed a night out at the May 19 Washington Nationals-New York Mets game at Nationals Park.  The event, hosted by Smithfield Foods, included a VIP reception prior to the game with 500 military members and families and Paula Deen, the "Queen of Southern Cuisine".

    Families enjoy night under ballpark lights

    Army Corporal Joel Heredia and his wife Tonya enjoyed a night out at the May 19 Washington Nationals-New York Mets game at Nationals Park. The event, hosted by Smithfield Foods, included a VIP reception prior to the game with 500 military members and...

The Washington Nationals and Smithfield Foods played host to more than 500 service members and their families at a VIP reception with the "Queen of Southern Cuisine" at Nationals Park May 19, 2010.

Georgia's Paula Deen greeted troops and their families at a reception held at the ballpark's rooftop party deck prior to the Nationals-New York Mets game.

At the reception Deen offered some advice for those looking for cooking success. "If you can read, you can cook," Deen told the crowd. This turned out to be excellent help since she additionally supplied each family with a signed copy of "The Deen Family Cookbook".

Although Deen's heartfelt suggestion was helpful to some hopeless cooks, Army Corporal Joel Heredia and his wife, Tonya feared they may need more than just literary guidance . "The first time I cooked at Tonya's house, I asked for her spice cabinet, and she handed me a salt and pepper shaker," Joel Heredia said. "I knew we were in trouble."

For many, cooking is a family tradition, and for Joel Heredia this is very true. "My father taught me how to cook, and his mother taught him," he said. "It's something that's been passed down through the family for generations. A lot of Mexican traditions revolve around food." That's why Heredia says he likes southern cooking.

"He always tells me to watch Paula so I can learn from her," Tonya Heredia said. "So I watch the shows, download the recipes and give it a shot." She later admitted that she often pretends to still not know how to cook since her husband creates so many wonderful culinary masterpieces.

The Heredias enjoyed a stress-free night out along with many families at the game. While deployed as a trumpet player with the 1st Armored Division Band, Joel Heredia suffered nerve damage while he was in Iraq and required brain surgery to repair the damage. He was nine days post-operation on game day. The couple, stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany, traveled back to the states for Joel's surgery. "It's just great to be out of the hospital," Joel Heredia said.

"It was so nice to get out and not have to worry about any of the details," Tonya Heredia said. "[The Nationals] took care of everything."

After the game, the families left with a sense of relaxation, a win for the home team, a dose of Deen's "southern comfort" and roadmap for culinary success. This is an example of a time when everyone gets to be a winner, well except for the Mets.

Page last updated Fri May 21st, 2010 at 13:12