To say that Paula Deen has had a rough year understates the difficulties she has endured this spring and early summer. I’ve reported extensively on the controversy surrounding her. On May 17, the celebrity chef testified in a deposition for a lawsuit against her that she used the N-word some time in the past. As a result, Food Network refused to renew her contract, and sponsor after sponsor dropped her. Despite the hatred coming her way from many corners, her fans throughout the South rallied around her.
These days, it looks as though things are starting to turn around for her. A new publisher has picked up her upcoming cookbook, and she has begun to pop up here and there. Last month, she appeared on MasterChef (in an episode produced long before the deposition), judging the contestants in a Southern cooking challenge.
Last week, the Houston Chronicle reported on Deen’s appearance at the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show — her first public appearance since June.
Paula Deen fought back tears Saturday as she was greeted by cheers and a standing ovation from a crowd of about 1,500 during her appearance at the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show at Reliant Center.
It was Deen’s first public appearance since late June, when news broke that she had used a racial slur.
“These are tears of joy, y’all,” Deen told the audience. “I’ve said all along that the one place I’d want to make my first step back out is Texas. Y’all’s hearts are as big as your state.”
Deen presented two cooking demonstrations and appeared with her two son, who are cooking stars in their own right.
Her fans in attendance could hardly contain their excitement.
Houston resident Sherry Carter and her daughters, Shana Randle and Michelle Sanders, who were among a few African-American fans in the audience Saturday, said the allegations hadn’t turned them against Deen.
“When I first heard about it, my feeling was, she got caught,” Carter said. “Just about everyone I know has used the word. At least she was honest about it.”
Four friends from the Fulshear-Richmond area wore sashes and carried placards with Deen’s photo to show their support.
Stephanie Young said they had the placards from last year’s show; the sashes were a last-minute addition that she made Friday night for fellow supporters Kelly Eldridge, Sue Yoder and her daughter-in-law, Alix Yoder.
“We wanted to step it up because she’s had a rough year,” Young said. “We want her back on TV, and we love her.”
I’m encouraged to see Deen making such a triumphant return from this summer’s controversy. Her resilience in the face of what could have wrecked her career demonstrates her lifelong bent for overcoming adversity and defying the odds. Good for her, and good for the legions of fans who have been waiting for her reemergence.