Paula Deen made her first public appearance in front of TV cameras in Houston, Texas after a three month absence and she served up a special menu of tears and thanks to the audience. She played to the crowd during the live coverage of a cooking demo put on by the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertainment Show.
The 66 year-old celebrity cook who built her food empire on Southern charm and faux Southern style cooking played to the camera as she winked, grinned and tossed a welcoming wave at the television viewers. When Deen received a standing ovation from the live crowd, who paid between $75 and $400 for the honour of watching the cooks return, she burst into tears.
Telling the paying audience that her tears were joyful, she then told the them that she’d always said she wanted Texas to be the place where she made her “triumphant” return. It is exactly this mixture of corn pone, aka BS, and showmanship that has always endured Deen to her television audience.
On her television program Deen relied on recipes that she claimed were rooted in the South, while her detractors maintained that her menus were not “true Southern” dishes at all. This was before her spectacular fall from grace after the revelations that she had used racial epithets against her man.
Before a court deposition showed that the popular television cook has used the “N” word, Deen had a multimillion-dollar culinary empire and the partnership of several large businesses. When the news of her self-confessed use of the racial slur became public, Deen was treated like a modern pariah who lost millions as her partners deserted her. The first to drop her like a racially hot rock was the Food Network who axed her television cookery program. Other’s soon followed suit, Walmart and Target were just two more partners who dropped Deen.
While it turned out that the Southern belle cook was essentially the victim of what appears to be “legal extortion,” she had been keeping low profile since her empire crumbled. The events that toppled her financial empire was set in motion by a former non-black employee who accused Deen of being racist and sexist toward employees at one of Paula’s restaurants.
The case was dismissed by the court with “extreme prejudice” after finding no evidence to support the allegations and ruling that someone who was not an ethnic minority could not claim racial prejudice by an employer.
In Deen’s first public and televised appearance since her trial admission and “crucifixion” by the media, she served the 1,500 member audience a recipe of tears and thanks. It was a curious blend of humility and bravado that pleased the paying crowd.
The celebrity cook was joined onstage by her sons, Jamie and Bobby, and the three worked together in the cooking demonstration. People magazine states that she soon got into character and approached one of the television cameras to smile and say, “I’m back!”
Dean spoke to the audience saying that unless they’d been under a rock until now, they would know that her recent life had been tumultuous and that she had learned from her misfortune. She also said that she wanted to thank “y’all from the bottom of my heart.”
As well as the televised cooking demonstration, the Atlanta cook also held a book signing and a meet and greet event for paying participants. The events took place on Saturday and were sold out, proving that Deen still has a fan base, at least in Houston, Texas if nowhere else.
Some of her fans who had traveled quite a distance to see their cooking hero, said that they hoped she would be back on TV with another regular show. Ms Deen will always have certain detractors who claim that her recipes are not real “honest-to-goodness” Southern recipes. But now that she has suffered from the negative publicity brought about by racial admissions, she seems to be climbing her way slowly out of the ruins of her career.
The Paula Deen recipe of tears and thanks pleased her Houston audience and no doubt pleased the TV viewers at home. She is slated to do another cooking demonstration on Sunday and she will be doing two more shows in Dallas, Texas a further two days, September 21 and 22.
By Michael Smith