Have you ever wanted to watch Paula Deen 24/7? Well, now you can!
Soon you’ll be able to access the Southern belle of butter 24/7. Paula Deen, former Food Network darling, who is currently recovering from several scandals including her usage of offensive slurs, is getting her own interactive digital network. Starting in September, her cooking videos, TV shows and other content will be made available to fans via computer, smart phone or tablet 24/7. The experience will also be interactive, giving subscribers the chance to interact with each other and with Deen.
“Guess who’s going digital, y’all! We’re going to have so much fun being together and cooking up some wonderful new and classic dishes,” said Deen in a statement. “Y’all can get my recipes, tips and cooking anytime you want — this is for you.”
The Paula Deen Network will be a paid subscription service, but will start with a free 14-day trial, and will feature unscripted episodes of Deen cooking her favorite southern dishes, and the episodes will have themes like “Leftover Mondays,” and “Taco Tuesdays.” Early registration will begin in July, and fans who register at that time will get entered into a sweepstakes to win an all-expenses paid trip to Savannah to be a part of her studio audience.
Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi
Get Ready for Paula Deen, 24/7!
Deen is launching her own digital network, her company announced on Wednesday. Expected to debut in September 2014, the interactive digital site will give viewers access to Deen and her famous Southern home cooking via their computers, smartphones and tablets.
In a statement, Deen said, “I'm so excited about my new online Network and can't wait to show everyone what we've been working on. We're going to have so much fun being together and cooking up some wonderful new and classic dishes. Y'all can get my recipes, tips and cooking anytime you want -- this is for you. I can't wait to crank up the oven and get cooking for the people I love: my family, my friends and my fans!"
This is the latest step in the embattled Southern chef's comeback. She took a hard hit in 2013 when she admitted using the N word in a deposition, and subsequently lost her shows on the Food Network and several major sponsors, including Walmart.
From her studio in Savannah, Georgia, Deen will welcome special guests, including her husband, Michael Groover, and her sons, Jamie and Bobby Dean.
Deen recently announced a 20-city tour, which will kick off in Tennessee on June 21, with fans at the debut live show getting the first look at the chef's new digital network.
Paula Deen Aims For Comeback With 'Uncensored' New Digital Network
After the Southern chef revealed her history of racially insensitive comments in a 2013 deposition, her sponsors abandoned her en masse, her publisher refused to publish her latest book and the Food Network cancelled her long-running TV show. Some speculated that Deen would never be able to recuperate from the blows the scandal dealt her.
But now Deen is trying to prove her critics wrong by staging a daring comeback. On Wednesday, she launched the Paula Deen Network, an online platform for her cooking and lifestyle content, with a heavy focus on video.
In a phone interview with The Huffington Post, Deen explained that she decided to start the new venture after thousands of fans pledged their support for her online in the wake of the scandal.
"One of my salvations in that year and three or four months when I was out of the public eye was a website that one of my family members showed me -- it was 'We support Paula Deen.' And I saw that my website had grown to over four and a half million people," she said, referring to her popular Facebook page. "That was staggering to me, that my website had actually grown rather than decreasing."
Deen said her team polled the most loyal fans about what she should do next, and found that many of them wanted to see her do something digital, rather than return to TV.
"We listened to them, and we said, 'Why not?' It's been one of the most wonderful business decisions of my life," Deen said. "Every day that I go to work, I walk in and I ask my team, 'Are we calling this work again today? Because it's so much fun.'"
According to Deen, the key advantage of having her own network -- as opposed to starring in a show on someone else's network -- is that she has complete creative control over the content. No network executives are hovering over her shoulder looking to veto risky decisions.
"When you're on a major network, they have the control over what you say, what you do, what you air," she said. "And I think my friends want more than that from me. And this way, we can give it to 'em. We show warts and all. There's very little editing.
"When you watch a cooking show -- besides the so many competitive shows that are going on -- it looks like everything's perfect, and all that, and that's just not the case," she continued. "We show it the way it unrolls. Most of the time it is perfect. But sometimes it's not. Sometimes I set off the fire alarm. Sometimes my oven doesn't work!"
Deen's network has no sponsors or advertising instead, its revenue will come entirely from viewers. Subscriptions to the Paula Deen Network cost $9.99 a month, or $7.99 a month if you sign up for an entire year. The strategy is a major gamble. Though a few media personalities, such as Glenn Beck, have made a fortune from online subscriptions, many others have failed to break through and turn a profit. It's hard to get people to pay for content when so many websites are giving it away for free.
The Paula Deen Network's financial backer, Phoenix-based private equity firm Najafi Cos., has staked a great deal on this model, having reportedly invested $100 million to purchase a majority share of the company. The firm recently acquired the rights to all Deen's old Food Network shows, which will be featured on the "Vintage Paula" section of the website.
"Thirteen years of footage, everything that had landed on the floor, all the specials: we have it all," Deen said of her archives.
While the older material will certainly attract loyal Deen fans, the fate of the new venture will ultimately depend on the strength and popularity of its original programming. The site already features over 100 original clips, organized into several dozen shows, from "Paula's 5 & Dime," a showcase for quick recipes with no more than five ingredients, to game shows like "What Did Paula Deen Just Put In My Mouth?" Deen said that her team plans to post at least 20 new clips every week, adding that she wants the network to offer an "uncensored" peek into her life.
Sure enough, the first batch of videos shows a raunchier, edgier Paula Deen than the Food Network ever did. In "Cheer Up Paula," Deen's closest advisers, Brandon Branch and Hollis Johnson, mount a surprise intervention against her slothful ways. Over the course of the 10-minute video, Deen admits to loving Botox, jokingly calls Branch and Johnson "assholes," threatens to rub a giant bullfrog all over Branch's face and ogles her well-muscled personal trainer.
That said, however, Deen is less candid and open when it comes to her history of political incorrectness. Perhaps in an effort to combat her negative public image, Deen's new videos emphasize her close relationship with Branch and Johnson, who are gay and black respectively. (Deen notoriously compared Johnson's skin tone to the color of a blackboard in a 2012 interview with New York Times reporter Kim Severson.) In "Meet Team Deen," Johnson says that Deen has been like a second mother to him, while the chef herself quips that Branch often calls himself "the daughter [she] never had."
When asked whether she was interested in exploring the racial aspects of the history of Southern cuisine on any of her new shows, Deen told HuffPost that she didn't know the history of any of her dishes further back than her grandmother. And when asked directly what the scandal had taught her about the country's racial dynamics, she sighed, then said, "Um . I just learned that words . they're powerful. And they can hurt, no matter how old they are." She said almost the exact same thing on the Today Show the day before.
But Deen may not need to win over those who were offended by her comments on race in order for her new project to succeed. If just 3 percent of her 4.5 million Facebook fans subscribe to the Paula Deen Network for a year, she'll net $17 million -- the amount she made as a Food Network star the year before the scandal.
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Inside Paula Deen's Home
Woman&rsquos Day editors had the chance to visit Paula Deen&rsquos Savannah, GA, home for the February 2013 cover shoot and got a real taste of what it means to feel welcome. Click through for the grand tour.
Here&rsquos an evening view of the Deen&rsquos ranch-style Savannah home. The dock to the far left leads to the river skirting the edge of their backyard.
What does Paula do when she&rsquos not cooking? She shells!
Paula&rsquos taken up a new hobby inspired by a local Savannah woman known as The Shell Lady. After trying her hand at the art, Paula calls shelling &ldquothe best therapy ever.&rdquo She starts with a basic stone bust, and then creates her own designs by hot-gluing seashells and starfish. The completed bust pictured here served as a centerpiece for the day.
Another of Paula&rsquos shelling creations, shown here, is an ongoing project. Paula keeps several shell boxes to choose from while creating her artwork&mdashand even uses shells from oyster beds that she&rsquos raked in herself. In the background, WD&rsquos fashion editor, Donna Duarte-Ladd, makes herself at home.
This playroom is designed for Paula&rsquos grandkids and is filled with toys, bunk beds, family photos, and of course, the whimsical frog ride shown here. Her son Jamie&rsquos little one, Jack, is a frequent visitor. Paula adores all the children in her family&mdashshe&rsquos recently painted some watercolors for her grandniece&rsquos nursery.
This flower-lined path leads toward the river through the backyard.
In her kitchen, Paula has her own set of Paula Deen cookware hanging above the center island. Over the stovetop, a set of copper cookware hangs neatly next to her cookbook collection.
Jamie, Paula&rsquos stylist, does her hair for the cover shoot while her dog, Lulu, watches. The February 2013 issue of Woman&rsquos Day features Paula&rsquos weight-loss tips and new look after making lifestyle changes to improve her health.
WD photographer Melanie Dunea gets ready to take Paula&rsquos picture for the February 2013 cover. The shoot took place in Paula&rsquos sitting room, which blends into the kitchen, creating a large, open and inviting space.
This side view of Paula&rsquos covered blue and white patio includes some of the many flowers accenting her backyard and a large abalone shell sculpture that she created (far right).
Lulu, a recent addition to the Deen family, happily greeted her guests. When she wasn&rsquot cuddling with Paula or members of the WD team, she spent much of the day following our fashion editor, Donna, around the shoot. When Donna wasn&rsquot looking, Lulu managed to run off with a few shoes and a pair of earrings!
Paula Deen Takes Texas: Celebrity Chef Gets Standing Ovation at First Public Appearance Since Scandal
Paula Deen made her first public appearance in three months in Houston.
Controversial TV Chef Paula Deen Makes Tearful Comeback
Sept. 15, 2013 -- Nearly three months after she begged for America's forgiveness and watched her empire crumble around her for admitting that she had used a racial slur, Paula Deen made her first public appearance at a Texas cooking show.
Deen got a standing ovation when she ascended the stage to join her sons, Jamie and Bobby Deen, at the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show in Houston on Saturday.
The disgraced celebrity chef welled up when she reflected on what she called "a rough patch" that she had experienced this summer.
"I've said all along that the one place that I would want to make my first step back out was Texas," she told the approximately 1,400 people in the audience. "Y'all's hearts are as big as your state."
The two-day event featured cooking demonstrations, tasting workshops, book signings and appearances by Food Network celebrities, according to its website. Deen held two cooking demonstrations, and tickets cost up to $400 to see her at the show.
The Southern chef, 66, has tried to keep a low profile after Lisa Jackson, who worked for Deen at her Savannah, Ga., restaurant sued her for racial and sexual discrimination.
Last month, a federal judge in Georgia threw out the racial discrimination claims against Deen, who then reached a settlement with Jackson. Still, much of the damage had already been done to her reputation, as companies like Smithfield, Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot dropped lucrative endorsement deals with the Southern chef.
text=Judge Dismisses Racial Discrimination Claims Against Paula Deen]/>
But could Deen's appearance signal that she is gearing up to make a comeback?
The chef took to Twitter to let her million-plus followers know that she'd be appearing on an episode of her son's Food Network show, "Home for Dinner with Jamie Deen," this morning. She also is scheduled appear at The Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show when it stops in Dallas on Saturday, Sept. 21, and Sunday, Sept. 22, with Bobby Deen.
In addition, Deen plans to be at a number of book signings at her various restaurants in Savannah, Ga., for the launch of Jamie Deen's new cookbook through the end of the year, according to her website.
Neither a representative for Deen nor the Food Network immediately responded to ABC News' request for comment.
A representative for the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show did not respond to ABC News.
You Won't Believe What Paula Deen Is Cooking Up Now
Just when you thought that Paula Deen had out Paula Deen-ed herself with butter-flavored lip balm and a performance of the "Nae Nae," her latest venture proves that the queen of Southern cuisine still has a few more surprises up her sleeve.
Deen recently announced that she plans to launch her own clothing line, Paula Deen's Closet, through the online retailer Evine, where she already has her own line of kitchen and home products. The decision comes as an answer to the question that the former Food Network chef gets most from her fans (presumably between "What's the best way to fry chicken?" and "What inspired you to deep fry a cheesecake?"): "Where did you get that top?"
"If I have something that all my friends out there want, I want to be able to bring it to them for a reasonable price," Deen, whose own closet boasts an 18x20 ft. area and its own "moving dry-cleaning rack," told WWD. "I think I share my body with a lot of women out there who are not a size 4. We want nice-looking, comfortable clothes. They look like they're dry cleaned but are washable."
The clothing line, which is described as "Southern comfortable," presently contains a total of 15 products, from sleeveless draped tanks to elastic-waisted ankle pants to caftans, all of which range from $35 - $69. According to Deen, the plan is to add new items&mdashthink dresses, sweaters, and outerwear&mdashto the line each month.
Needless to say, if sporting garments from Deen's collection is going to get us closer to conquering her peanut butter cheese fudge recipe in the kitchen, we're up for some new threads.
By Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Illustrations by Earl Barrett-Holloway
Below is the complete inventory of my interactions with Paula Deen, deep in the Caribbean Sea, on the Reflection, the vessel of the Celebrity Cruise line which hosted the Paula Deen cruise. The cruise, which took place in January, advertised via a hacky Web page that invited the reader to join Paula on the, yes, “white, sandy beaches.”
Paula Deen locked her eyes with mine across the Lawn Club Grill. The white-haired crowd parted as she cut through them, a Red Sea to her Israelite, and when she arrived in front of me, she took my hand, which contained an ice cream cone (ice cream cones are available around the clock on this cruise, availability I tested at many hours), and licked my cone. She backed away, vanilla soft-serve on her chin, cone still in my hand, eye contact still intense. In her eyes is everything she wants to tell me to make me love her, which I sort of do for a minute. This is her specialty, getting people to love her despite it all.
On the first day of the cruise, she had taken a picture with me. At the various events throughout the cruise where pictures were permitted, she posed with me and said, “How’re you doin’?” with enthusiasm that seemed like a parody of enthusiasm, her assistants’ eyes twitching, ready to hood me and take me away if I said anything other than “Fine!” or “This is so much fun!” When it was my turn to approach her, the assistants would swarm, as if I were a known Southern woman molester and they were the supervision the state had provided for my visits.
Just before one of the cooking demonstrations (there were two) she asked me if I had kids, and I told her I did, and she asked me what I cooked for them. I told her that my nanny did most of the cooking, that I worked full-time. Here she made eye contact again, dazzling eyes the same color as the water we floated upon, her eyebrows quivering a little, and said, “You have to cook with your children. How else will they have memories of you?” It was day five of a cruise I was on for work, and I hadn’t spoken to my sons for the longest-so-far-in-their-lives period of time. I went back to my stateroom and cried on my bed.
After the lawn Olympics, the winners were asked to pose for a picture. (I won third place, because of the egg-and-spoon race. Also because I was 20 years younger than the other contestants.) At the last minute, Paula turned around and bent over to moon the camera, the cheap white leggings that she bought at a flea market showing all that cheap white leggings bought at a flea market will. Everyone took out their cameras, and her security detail and assistants rushed her to try to save her from herself.
That last one is all you need to know about Paula Deen. What follows next is commentary.
In Paula Deen’s video invitation to the Paula Deen Network, which debuted last week, she stands in front of her folksy home, near her folksy porch, on an eternal spring day, and from her tanned jaw-hide you can hear her speak excruciatingly slowly as she entices you to “come on in.” (I know it is a stereotype of Southern people that they speak slowly, but Paula speaks almost as if she is imitating tape that has been slowed down.)
Inside the network are shows with names like “What Did Paula Deen Just Put In My Mouth?” and “Deen There, Done That.” Her eyes pop out in surprise that her son Bobby’s favorite herb is dill. She uses the word “asshole” a couple of times. There are a lot of recipes, new ones and old ones, healthy ones and scary ones. There is an entire show devoted to “Dad Dinner Time,” which means either things that real men will like, or that real men could make. I’m not sure.
In February, following the cruise, a new company had been announced— Paula Deen Ventures—which had been bankrolled to the tune of a reported $75 to $100 million by an investor named Jahm Najafi. His website says he “seeks to make strategic investments in undervalued assets,” but really, homeboy loves a fire sale: he was the last known owner of Book of the Month Club and BMG Music Service — you remember, 12 tapes for a penny — and in 2011 considered buying Borders, which had dwindled to 405 all-but-dead stores. He specializes in businesses that still have some juice in them he doesn’t care how much because he buys them so cheap and a profit is a profit. (You can only imagine how quickly calls made to the Najafi headquarters were not returned for this story. Paula Deen’s publicists also denied my many interview requests on the boat and after they did not respond to our many fact-checking queries.)
And there is still profit to be squeezed from the Paula Deen brand. Deen’s products — through collaborations with Meyer Corporation, among others—had seen a reported 35 percent sales increase in the first two quarters of this year subscriptions to her magazine reportedly grew by 40 percent. (For perspective, in those two quarters, paid subscriptions for magazines in general faltered 1.8 percent and single-copy newsstand sales fell a significant 11.9 percent from a year before.)
An investment in Paula Deen conveys a deep understanding of America’s political temperature and where we’re headed: that Paula’s comeback isn’t about forgiveness — it’s about standing her ground. Even in her pre-scandal life, she didn’t care when Anthony Bourdain called her “the worst, most dangerous woman in America.” No, she was defiant. “There was a time,” her recipes always seemed to say, “when we didn’t ruefully chew our tree bark and soy cheese on gluten-free foam bread in the hopes of making it to 94. We lived. We ate, and we enjoyed it — right until the moment we suddenly clutched our chest on a golf course, keeled over and died at the age of 69. Men had died so we could do this.” Now we are a nation that is leaning further and further toward conservative clansmanship and white tribalism, and this sets Paula on her way to being a true tycoon of her own martyrdom.
First, there’s the digital network. Then there’s the 20-city tour of a cooking show with the whole Deen family according to the venues I checked, which were large, the tour sold quite well. She’s out there reminding everyone that she still exists, that she just won’t be subject to the same scrutiny and censorship she once was. She’s gone rogue, she has, and nobody will tell what she can’t say ever again. One man on the boat was not a particular fan of hers even just a year before, but when he heard that Food Network had dropped her, he canceled his Food Network magazine subscription, bought a Cooking with Paula Deen one, and joined her on the cruise, because if you can’t say what you’re thinking, what good is a democracy?
“Here’s what I’m learning about Paula’s persona,” said Andrew Morton, the lawyer who oversaw Paula’s Bag Lady Foundation while I was reporting this story (and who has since been discharged of this duty). “Post-excrement hitting fan blades, her haters hate her more, and her fans love her more, because they feel like she got a bad deal. But in a funny way, net/net, she may come out ahead.” He pointed out the amount of pro-Paula Facebook pages out there: hundreds of thousands of likes in total. The people were rallying around her. Paula Deen was no longer a guilty pleasure no, she had become a cause to support.
The opening night of the cruise, Paula said to the crowd, “My family had a rough, rough summer. It’s y’all who got me through the last six months, because it’s you who know who I am.” A woman who wore body glitter and purple swirl-art tennis outfits complete with sun visors called out, “You’re the bomb, no matter what people say about you.”
There were three journalists on the boat: me, a woman from Gawker and a woman from People. Gawker and I would lament our lack of access, and People would nod silently, halfheartedly, but we couldn’t help noticing that People seemed to sit with Paula’s entourage more often. People didn’t have an interview lined up, but if People knows one thing, it’s that when the big thing happens, Paula will want to talk to People about it.
People and Gawker and I recognized each other initially as journalists only because of our comparative youth. The cruise was made up of mostly older, wealthy Southern women, clad in capris in lady pairs, their husbands either dead (yes, many) or refusing to attend. Paula had inspired so many of them with her story of starting a successful business with $200, the ex-wife of an alcoholic and single mother of two sons. They admired her, and they were dazzled by her gregariousness and her ability to push the limits on both her Southernness and her ladylikeness.
Also on the cruise was Peggy, a Paula Deen look-alike who was not there in any official capacity. She did bear a strong resemblance to Paula, but disconcertingly off in an uncanny valley way, like when you dream about someone you know but something’s wrong. On the boat, she did nothing to refute the notion that she was Paula when people outside the Paula Deen group who had heard that Paula was on the boat approached her. They’d tell her how they supported her and squeezed her hands and said that they believed in her. I asked Peggy if she thought Paula would be okay with her impersonating her not for a bar mitzvah or a retirement party but in real life, and she said, “I think it takes a lot of pressure off of her.”
I don’t know if Paula would agree. Her whole game is her warmth, and Peggy would say a polite thank-you and turn away from her approachers, cold and maybe even sullen — looking like Paula Deen is not being Paula Deen, after all. Paula fast-tracks friendship, so that when you encounter her you feel that something special had happened there. So many of the guests identified Paula as a friend, and within this friendship’s boundaries is paying for this cruise, $1,000 more than it costs to go on this same cruise minus Paula Deen. She is supremely talented at the art of charisma: she’d refer to the women as heifers, which made them explode in paroxysms of laughter, she’d make naughty double-entendres about tenderizing (“beating your meat”), she’d make self-deprecating jokes about herself, from her false teeth to her mostly fake hair to her aging body (punch lines included: “They’re 40 longs” and “Choking your chicken, y’all!” and “One in the grits and one in the gravy”). The audience shook in anticipation of what she would say next, and, like a master, she would pivot and instead say something so touching about her impoverished youth, her dead parents, her troubled first marriage, her agoraphobia. She makes use of the word “y’all” at the ends of sentences, particularly when she’s saying something she doesn’t feel she’s getting the proper approval or love for. It’s a long, drawn-out y’all, an empty heart into which you can pump your empathy and love and mirror neurons and identification. Yaaaa’oooooowwwwllll.
In our group was a bunch of women from Alabama whom I became extremely fond of and who wore matching purple T-shirts they’d made just for the trip that said “NO CRUISE CONTROL, PARTYIN’ WITH PAULA DEEN, COOKIN’ UP SOME FAMILY FUN.” Someone on the boat had thought they were the Cupcake Girls, and one of them shouted, “We may have muffin tops, but we ain’t no Cupcake Girls!” There were women named Bubbles and Bunnie and Doc — a nickname for everyone if you didn’t have one, Paula would provide it for you, as in the case of Doc, who I was able to surmise is maybe a nurse, and who had given Paula a Z-Pak because Paula had been coughing. Superbugs were not taken into account, nor was the fact that Paula’s coughing could have been attributed to the many, many cigarettes she smokes each day. Each event she arrived at, she smelled of both nicotine and an aggressive campaign to cover the nicotine: Her breath a tobacco-Breath Savers layer cake, the icing of which was a seemingly endless supply of wintergreen gum, chewed loudly and for emphasis her hair smelled like Binaca. But underneath it was the rotten cancer smell of the cigarettes. This is the way it is with Paula. If you get close enough and stay long enough, it is hard for her to keep anything that is underneath covered up.
In February, guests converged upon the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s main Friday night event, the Burger Bash. A culinary team of 200 had prepared 54,000 hamburgers of about four ounces each. “That equates to 13.33 cows, roughly!” a publicist told me proudly, and I immediately pictured all of those cows lined up, even the .33, and my heart fell through the ground. The Bash was not unlike a wine tasting: people grabbed a hamburger, took a bite, nodded with a downward thoughtful frown, commenting perhaps on the notes of cowiness and the subtle undertones of mass slaughter, and threw the rest into one of the many large trash bins placed throughout. There were also bottles of water, and to cleanse the palate between burgers, patrons would open up these bottles, take a sip, cap them again, and throw them away too.
When my mother was a baby in the recently established state of Israel, my grandparents gave her the one egg they were rationed every week, because she was sickly. She spat it out. My grandparents, malnourished from the war, watched as the egg fell to the floor. That’s the story I kept thinking of at the Burger Bash, which, to be fair, other people seemed to really enjoy.
Food Network is a big sponsor of the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, obviously, and back when Paula was a star of the channel, she would come and show her fealty to Network. When people think of Paula’s downfall, they think of her being fired for being racist — the events of June 2013 happened in such a flurry that of course they think that, and certainly no one in the Deen camp will correct them.
But she wasn’t fired for racism. At the time that the story broke that she’d admitted to using the N-word during a deposition in a lawsuit brought by a manager in one of her restaurants, her Food Network contract was already under review. (Besides, a judge later dismissed the racial bias claim against her.) I was told that Paula didn’t have the typical arrangement in which Food Network would see a portion of the profits from her licensing deals, as it reportedly did with its other stars. She was only making them ad money. But that ad money was on the wane, because her ratings were in the gutter.
The downfall had long since begun. The year before it had been revealed that Paula had been diagnosed with diabetes and kept it a secret while she shored up an endorsement deal for Novo Nordisk, maker of the diabetes drug Victoza. Paula had already taped a full season’s worth of episodes of the show—at a higher weight, making the food she was known for, all the while knowing her own secret.
“I think viewers started feeling like they were watching an alcoholic drink themselves to death,” says Allen Salkin, the author of the excellent From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network. “All of a sudden, you’re watching this woman who you know has diabetes stuff her face.” Food Network was pissed off at the diabetes-drug deal and its implications — she had given America diabetes, and now she could cure them, all under the auspices of a tiny Food Network logo on the bottom right of the screen.
(Barry Weiner, the agent who’d made the deal and who’d made her a star to the tune of a $17 million reported fortune — her pre-scandal net worth — was fired because someone always gets fired in these situations.)
The N-word scandal contributed in a way to Paula’s release, but it was also conveniently coincidental. She was on her way out, anyway. Still, Salkin adds, Food Network was building Food Networks all across the world. “The UK, Asia, Mongolia,” he says. “So, once you have somebody who’s tarnished with racism, you’re now a company that is trying to make it in Africa and Asia—this is not somebody you can be in business with.”
On the boat, Paula was everywhere she was scheduled to be, wandering in a half-hour late, looking around as if she’d just materialized on the planet — really, her head would rotate up and around, rainbow formation, from floor to ceiling and back again, mouth agape — and leaving exactly on time, ushered out, as if she weren’t on a boat and had someplace to be, by her entourage: her husband, Michael (MAH-kool), a hearty Hemingway look-alike (no, really, he has competed for this title in a contest for men who resemble Hemingway in a Florida key), a docking captain who became the luckiest man on earth the day many years ago that Paula’s dog wandered into his yard a man named Jamie, whose job it was to clip silver-blue extensions into her hair her assistant, Brandon, an interior decorator who could say everything like it was a disgusted dis, complete with neck movements, and whose duties outside of just plain assisting included decorating her house for Christmas and the sets on her now-defunct TV set Southern another few assistants her 84-year-old aunt Peggy, a self-described “slot slut” who spent much of her time at the machines on the ship’s yes-there-was-a-casino (and a Flywheel and an actual Apple store and a morgue, just in case any of those things didn’t work out quite the way it is hoped they would) her longtime muscle, Hollis, who wore matching Ralph Lauren baseball caps and polo shirts and whose eyes would prowl rooms wide-eyed so that Paula was just free to be Paula, or at least the Paula she claims to be (it is easy to be gregarious when other people seem to be airlifting you away every few minutes) and Brad Turner, who seemed to be there only because he was black.
It is some amount of risky but very educated conjecture that makes me think to say this. Brad is a 20-year army veteran who had been a chef with the Pentagon and so goes by the nom de rotisserie the Grill Sergeant. He asked people if they liked hugs, because he loves hugs, he said, and it is true that he would hug everyone he engaged with.
They’d met the prior September. He’d been singing — he sings while he’s cooking is his thing — during a cooking demonstration at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in Dallas, a song dedicated to Paula, who was across the great hall, and Paula heard it, dropped what she was doing, and floated like a magnetized zombie to his voice. He continued to sing while they slow-danced.
On the cruise, on the first night, Brad told this story and he also sang. Here again Paula drifted in, the matter of her very soul drawn to this voice, and again they danced. She expressed some surprise that he was there, and Brad later confided in me how confusing that was, since he had been told he’d been specially requested by her. After that, Brad waited and waited for something to do (aside from his one scheduled cooking demo with Michael), and eventually shrugged and told me he didn’t quite know why he was there. He seemed to want to talk about race with me he knew I was a journalist, and he knew why a journalist would be on this cruise.
“Paula Deen is not racist,” he said. “I know racists. They don’t touch you, they don’t hug you, they’re afraid of you.” Paula hugs and touches and isn’t afraid. This was the first but not the last of the many alternative and convenient definitions of racism I’d hear during the reporting of this story. For Brad, racism was a physical disgust, a fear for harm or some sort of cooties that only a person of another race could transmit.
But I heard other definitions, too. “There’s being racist,” said a producer I spoke with who had worked with her before the downfall, “and then there’s being an asshole.” He argued that merely saying an epithet was a sign of inconsideration rather than true endemic racism, that real racism amounted to a refusal to promote black people where white people would receive a promotion. And she certainly hadn’t been that kind of racist: There were black people in leadership positions in both of her restaurants.
On the cruise, there was a black woman, a surgeon from Los Angeles who had come on the cruise with her friend she told me that she didn’t think Paula was racist, she understood that Paula was a woman from the South who grew up hearing it, and that this new generation won’t hear it quite so much. I heard from endless numbers of people that if the N-word is so problematic, then why were rappers using it? I heard that it is nearly impossible to make a joke unless “a black person, a Jew, or a homosexual” was the butt of it. I heard very compelling arguments from people who were not necessarily fans of Paula’s that she’s a racist only if your definition of racism is narrowly defined as anyone who says epithets (which I suppose mine is, and which it continues to be over the almost-year I was on this story).
Besides, the Grill Sergeant told me, that incident — the one in which she referred to the man who allegedly robbed the bank where she worked as an N-word — was 25 years ago, in the 1960s. People used different words then. This is a thing I’d hear very often: that 25 years ago was in the 1960s, that it was a different time. Over and over, people on the boat — in the Deen group but also at large, who saw my lanyard identifying me as part of the Deen group — would bring up race and say what a different time it was 25 years ago in the 1960s. It was just at the dawn of the civil rights movement, after all. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., all that. Actually, I’d point out, 25 years ago was just about 1990. For perspective, here’s what was going on in 1990: pregnant women knew not to smoke Beverly Hills, 90210, was on the Internet existed. 1990 was pretty recent, in fact.
In Miami, between events, the Deen brothers sat down with me, near the pool at the Loews, where they were staying. The brothers, into their 40s, have not yet made it as stand-alone brands. Their success exists in reaction to their mother literally and figuratively, they exist because of her. Bobby worked at a Circuit City when his mother started her first restaurant Jamie was helping her deliver sandwiches, having not yet found his own path.
Bobby is not what I’d call a natural star, but he had a great gimmick for his own projects: his show, Not My Mama’s Meals, and a cookbook, From Mama’s Table to Mine — healthier versions of his mother’s artery busters. When I met Jamie, who is dimpled and charismatic and animated, he shook my hand warmly and held onto it for a moment as he smiled into my face. He is very handsome, and yet he couldn’t stop making self-deprecating jokes/apologies about how fat he is, which he isn’t.
Both spoke bitterly about all that their mother had had to endure. “It was really tough,” Jamie said, “But see, we know who Mom is we never questioned who we are. We kept our faith in ourselves and our faith in our faith and our faith in our business and our faith in our employees, and so without the challenges of last summer? There’s a million people that have walked up to us since then and said, ‘We love your mom, we love you.’
“Opinions are like buttholes,” Jamie summarized. “Some of them are just bigger than others.” (Which, I don’t know. Is that true? About opinions, I mean. I can imagine that it’s true about butt holes.)
Yet, the two can separate the issues of their betrayal and all those who left them behind and still continue working with Food Network Bobby has a show on the Cooking Channel, which is the “younger, hipper” offshoot of the network, and Jamie kept on with his Home for Dinner until it was cancelled this past summer. (Food Network tells us the three personalities had separate talents arrangements. A source involved, however, suggested that the sons’ shows were a result of Paula’s last negotiation with the network.)
Bobby piped up. “We employ nearly 400 people in the city of Savannah.” One of those people, who works at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, looked at me with wide eyes and shook his head slowly when I asked if he was treated well, a look that still haunts my dreams. Two employees at the Lady & Sons swore they were given 401(k)s but when I asked if they knew how to contribute to them they didn’t understand what I meant. It’s important that I note here that every person I spoke with who dealt with Paula on TV or in her restaurants talked about how very nice and professional she is.
“We make great food,” Bobby said, probably not talking about the chicken pot pie I waited 75 minutes at the table for at the Lady & Sons, which ended up being chunks of dry chicken in a “broth” of just heavy cream, or the congealed macaroni and cheese that is supposed to be decadent in its flagrant disregard for my LDL, but just comes off as being something a five-year-old would like. That said, I watched a five-year-old not eat it. I left the restaurant believing I had scurvy.
“We are great for the city of Savannah,” he said, despite the fact that a waitress at Bubba’s told me that they import their shrimp from Thailand.
What brought Paula down, they want me to know, is not the fact that she admitted to using the N-word in a deposition. It’s not that she wanted to dress up black people as slaves and have a plantation-themed wedding. It isn’t even that her disgusting mouth-breather cokehead embezzler of a brother — these crimes diminish in scope when you taste his food, which is a butter-soaked cardiac event, as I can attest having eaten one of the last meals served before Uncle Bubba’s shut its doors — exposed employees to pornography on his computer at work. (That matter, along with the n-word allegations, was the substance of the lawsuit of a former employee, and how these issues came to public light.)
No, it’s the media who did them in. By their reasoning, we in the media never liked Paula, according to Deen family logic, because “she’s from the South and she’s self-made. And she’s homey. She’s a cook, not a chef,” Jamie said. He might be right, in a way. The only outrage I ever found were from the labor attorney who represented the former employee who sued Paula, and people who wrote stories about what had happened. (Reader, nobody else gives a shit.) “It sells copy,” he said, referring to the hundreds of articles that came out around that time.
“Have you ever heard the term ‘kicking somebody while they’re down’?” I assured him I had. “You’ve seen the cycle of what the media does. People succumb to it.” And then, of course, there is some big mystery that Paula alluded to several times on the boat, that their producer Gordon Elliott wishes he could tell me, that the sons shake their fists at the heavens for. If only they could tell me what really happened! Alas, they are bound by a court gag order. But if only! Then we’d all understand, and it would make her have, I don’t know, un-said the N-word, un-suggested that black people dress up as plantation workers, un-gotten diabetes, and un-signed the lucrative drug endorsement, all of which contributed to her ouster from Food Network and her dismissal from Target, QVC, Walmart, and nearly every other brand that had aligned with her.
Paula spent many of the off-hours on the boat in a hidden corner of the buffet, surrounded by her posse, and in the “casiner” (she goes out of her way, I am sure, to overpronounce some Southernisms). There, she could let it all hang out and be the slot slut that she deep down was born to be. At one point there was a slots tournament, and, reader, I can’t tell you how the fuck they played that game, balloons popping up and buttons to press and maybe a touch screen. I, meanwhile, had made friends with two women named Martha and Sandi, who were from North Carolina. Sandi had been a teacher at a Daughters of the American Revolution school, and she was the sharp, sassy wit of our boat. Sandi was a widow, but she wasn’t upset about that. “He deserved to die,” she told me of her husband, a rake who once had taken another woman to Paris. She found a new life traveling after him, going to China and Tibet and to Alaska, and every time she landed somewhere new she would raise her arms and say, “This is my Paris!”
“Paula got a bad rap,” Sandi told me one day. “The only thing that I didn’t feel like she was judged too severely for it is when it came out that she was pre-diabetic and she was also a representative for the drug company.”
Sandi found it hard to believe I’d never said the N-word before. Martha explained to me that her parents had been relatively liberal for the time they allowed use of the N-word only for a black person who was bad. To be clear, nobody on the Paula Deen cruise used the word (in front of me at least). But the people who were on the boat at large did. They would casually say it like it wasn’t awful, like “Oh, people just couldn’t get over the fact that she said [I won’t type it here, which I’m sure they would also find stupid, not because they’re racist but because what kind of person is afraid of a word?].” One charmer even talked about a nut that is sometimes called by a phrase that incorporates the N-word, and how can it be a bad word if that’s just a nut?
Then there were the people who couldn’t even understand the question. Bubbles, who is on her third marriage (“I did the good, the bad, and the ugly — but in reverse!”), lives in Georgia, and sits on the board of Paula’s Bag Lady Foundation, which gives scholarships to women with a startup idea and which benefited from the proceeds of her ready-to-eat freezer and pantry products. As of this writing, about $200,000 had been collected for the foundation en totale, according to a lawyer who was affiliated with the foundation, and none of it distributed. (On the cruise, there was an auction to raise money for the foundation. Paula’s old wig extensions were more or less sold directly to Peggy the look-alike. Someone bought an earring out of Michael’s ear. There were used bedroom slippers and a stained Panama Jack shirt Michael had worn the night before. Paula paints portraits of pigs with long eyelashes, and she auctioned these things off, too.)
All Bubbles can think of is how people’s limited interpretation of words put on hold the opportunity to sponsor so many women with no money and so many good ideas. But Bubbles is right. This is about words, after all. It wasn’t that the Southerners I spoke with didn’t think the N-word was offensive they just didn’t think that words could offend that much at all. They truly couldn’t understand what the big deal was, and it’s not because they aren’t smart. It’s a cultural difference that doesn’t get examined that much: We in the media sit behind our screens and measure out words to fit into tweets, we craft headlines, we make every piece of a sentence count and stand for something. That’s ridiculous to them. “People say redneck and I don’t get upset, but it’s clearly an insult,” one of the ’Bama girls told me. For them, words are just how you get from here to there.
I left the cruise with none of my points ever fully made. I don’t know if it would have mattered. Paula was much bigger to them than her words.
“In my opinion, Paula represents everyone who hasn’t made it yet,” her publicist had told me on the boat. A few weeks later, she was unable to stop People from printing Paula’s quotes comparing her struggles to those of “that black football player” Michael Sam, quotes she did not make while drunk and quotes she was not tricked into saying. The publicist was gone soon after.
“In my opinion,” continued the publicist, back in happier times, “she’s a wonderful person.”
After Fall From Grace, Can Paula Deen Recover?
Another day, another high-dollar deal lost for Paula Deen following a racial-slur controversy that's sent the Food Network and several large corporations, including Target and Wal-Mart, fleeing from the celebrity chef.
Despite the ongoing uproar, crisis management professionals say it's not too late to turn around this sinking ship. After all, Martha Stewart was able to rebound after spending time behind bars.
But Deen's path to recovery is a bit more complex.
Part of the problem, experts say, is that racial missteps are some of the hardest to smooth over. Another problem is the errors Deen has made so far in handling the controversy that has stemmed from her admission that she used the N-word.
"She made a fundamental mistake in the beginning by not getting in front of the story," said Jim Joseph, the North American president of Cohn & Wolfe, a communications firm.
In general, he advises clients to be completely transparent about mistakes and take responsibility for them quickly.
What gets people in trouble, Joseph said is "never the crime—always the coverup." In order to successfully rebound, Deen needs to get back out in the public eye with new products and a new show.
In essence, she needs to go back to being Paula Deen.
(Read More: Paula Deen Cookbook Sales Surge)
"If she goes into seclusion, she'll really quickly be forgotten," he said. "And the longer she does that, the harder it is to come back."
This strategy helped fellow domestic guru Stewart rebound with help from her fans after an insider-trading conviction sent her behind bars and later house arrest.
"I think Martha Stewart is a good example of that," Joseph said. "When she got out, she went right back to being Martha Stewart. Even though she was under house arrest, she was still recording shows."
It also helped Tiger Woods after a fallout from extramarital affairs caused many sponsors to distance themselves from the golf superstar.
"I think for him, he focused on his core skill set—he focused on golf and on winning again," Joseph said. "Because he was focused on it, I think that caused other people to focus on golf instead of him."
Despite describing Deen's situation as a "house of cards," Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates PR, said Deen could still rebound. To get back into the public's good graces, she'll need to understand the root of the crisis, which is the pain that her offensive language caused.
He stressed the need for this change of heart to be authentic. If it's not, another interview will not help Deen, whose weepy interview Wednesday on the "Today Show" precipitated more companies' decisions to distance themselves from her.
"The next interview—are you going to believe her?" he said. "It's like the boy who cried wolf."
While being labeled a racist isn't as hard to rebound from as being accused of murder or being a pedophile, Paul said racism isn't far behind.
"From a business angle, a business will never risk being associated, even short term, with having the label of being racist," he said. "They will cut you loose first to save their own reputation."
One by one, Deen has seen her vast empire crumble as diabetes drug maker Novo Nordisk, Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, the Food Network, QVC, Smithfield Foods and Caesars Entertainment have all terminated their partnerships with her.
"I think it's going to be a long time before she gets big national endorsement deals again—if ever," said Nat Ives, AdAge.com's senior editor of media and innovation. "But she'll be fine in other ways—she may keep a lot of her smaller company endorsements."
Several of these smaller companies have rallied to her cause, as have many of her fans, who have taken to the Food Network's Facebook page to plead with the company for her return.
In Joseph's opinion, these fans who first propelled Deen to fame are the best ingredient in a potential recipe for redemption.
"If she is smart, she will let her fans defend her, let her fans rally other people. I think that would be the smart way to go and the only chance she has," he said.
"If she tries to do it herself, I think she risks looking insincere and like she's just trying to get back into the game as opposed to wanting to be there for their fans."
—By CNBC's Katie Little. Follow her @KatieLittle.
A Taste of Paula Deen
She is famous for her love of down-home comfort food, the sort that invariably calls for such sinful substances as butter or shortening or bacon (or sometimes all three). She is also known for her devotion to her family, especially her sons, Jamie and Bobby, her husband, Michael, and her brother, Bubba. And, on this day in a Manhattan photo studio, Paula Deen is sharing yet another signature characteristic: her loud and infectious laugh.
Deen, 61, is having a ball, tossing her head back to guffaw as she spears a piece of coconut cake and cracks, "No one had better get between a fat girl and her food!"
This is precisely the sort of good-natured self-ribbing that, as much as her cooking, has made Deen a star. Her success has always stemmed not only from her yummy, definitely-non-diet recipes, but from her willingness to reveal her personal life to viewers. So now, as Mother's Day approaches, she is eager to share her memories of the time she spent with her mother and grandmother, and to talk about the dishes that have special meaning to her and her family.
Fans of her two hit Food Network cooking shows and five best-selling cookbooks already know Paula's tale. Raised in exceedingly humble circumstances, she married as a teen, and then lost both her parents by the time she was 23. For years afterward, she struggled with agoraphobia, a fear of public spaces that kept her trapped at home. Divorced after 24 years of marriage, she had no clue how to support herself. Until she turned to what the women in her family had always done best: cooking.
The result was a Savannah restaurant named for her little family: The Lady and Sons. It soon became a local sensation, and cookbooks followed. Before long, the Food Network came calling, and Deen began bringing her trademark mega-charm (and mega-calories) to viewers. Still sassy and self-deprecating &mdash talking to GH, she refers to herself, more than once, as a "heifer" &mdash she hasn't let fame make her too cautious. (She is, after all, the first host ever to have her language censored by the Food Network &mdash for a colorful word that she let slip while making hot wings.) Deen says she never really expected a career in the limelight &mdash or, for that matter, in the kitchen. Nonetheless, she wound up learning enough to last a lifetime.
The lessons started slow. "Growing up, I had a very busy social life," she says in a languid drawl. "It wasn't until I was a sophomore in high school that I asked Mama if I could come into the kitchen and have her teach me how to cook something. Well, I wasn't in there five minutes before she said, 'OK, honey, you have to go now.' I made her so nervous she was about ready to throw up. So I really didn't have an interest in being in the kitchen until after I was married, when I was 18. It didn't take me long to realize that Mama was not going to show up at my house every day and cook."
Deen says she learned the most from her maternal grandmother, Irene Paul, a "fabulous" Southern cook who lived to be 91. But it was a moment in the kitchen with her mom that still resonates. "I had been married for about six months when Daddy died and Mama had to go back to work," she says. "I don't know why I'm remembering this. because, really, my memory is so poor sometimes I wonder how many things I'm probably just blocking out. But I remember, this was when Mama was working at the linen department of JCPenney. I called her and I said, 'Mama, I'm cooking spaghetti. When you get home from work, do you want to stop by and eat?' And I just remember that when she came over, she was in my kitchen, fixing herself a plate, and she turned to me and said, 'Paula, honey, you're going to be a better cook than your mama.' I looked at her and said, 'That will never happen.' But wasn't that a strange thing for her to say! And isn't it odd that I still remember it?"
Her voice catches and she falls silent for a few moments, then takes a deep breath.
"And anyway, she was wrong. You know, nobody can ever cook as good as your mama. And I know she felt the same way about her mother's cooking, because as we'd sit down to eat when I was little, she'd say, 'Oh, this isn't as good as the way your grandmama makes it,' and of course, my brother, Bubba, and I thought she was crazy. Mama's cooking was wonderful," she says, drawing the word out into extra syllables. "She put three meals a day on the table: a big breakfast for Bubba and me before we went to school, and a big lunch for Daddy in the middle of the day when he'd come home, and then dinner for all of us each night."
These days, Deen isn't putting three meals on the table &mdash although she does serve up Southern goodies like her famous hoe cakes (a sort of flattened corn bread biscuit) to the millions who watch her on TV, buy her books, and read her magazine, Cooking with Paula Deen. And she spends little time at the restaurant in Savannah, which is run by her two sons while she juggles show tapings, book signings, and public appearances. But her boys grew up on her meals, and they feel about her the same way she does about her own mom.
"I think she's the greatest cook in the world," says Bobby, 38. "There is so much love that goes into everything that she makes. It's what she did for us, growing up. People love her food, and she loves them right back, through her food."
"You know, I think people have this idea that Mama is hooked up to a butter IV at home," adds Jamie, 40, the father of Deen's beloved only grandchild, 1-year-old Jack. "The truth is, she just believes in having good things in moderation. Everything is probably OK for you if you don't have too much."
The Deen brothers have not only followed their mother into the restaurant business, they've joined her in efforts outside the kitchen. This past year, they teamed with Smithfield Foods, a major meat processor with whom Deen has an endorsement contract. Together, they've pledged to give a million meals to local food kitchens that help the hungry. "All three of us remember what it was like when we were one paycheck away from being broke," says Bobby. "And my mother isn't the sort of person who is going to forget where she came from just because she's famous now. She truly wants to help. She has such a good heart, and I think that's the main reason why so many people are drawn to her. She wins them over with either her personality or her food."
There's one person, however, who isn't completely bowled over by her cooking. Deen's husband of four years, Michael Groover, is a rugged former tugboat captain with some fairly defined tastes of his own. "Listen, he hurt my feelings so bad," Deen says. "He said his mama made the most fabulous pear crisp in the world, so I said, Well, I can do that. So I made it, and I said, 'What do you think?' But now, you cannot ask Michael a question if you don't want the truth. The man doesn't have a lie in him. And so he said, 'Well, it's just not nearly as good as my mama's.' And I'll tell you, I've tried it many times since, that darn pear crisp, and I still can't get that sucker right!" Deen lets loose with that laugh again.
Under-performing pear crisps aside, she still knows more than a few recipes that are just like Mama used to make, as well as special treats she created for her own boys. Here, she looks back at the meals she has loved the most, and reveals the stories behind each delicious dish.
Cooking With Paula Deen 4+
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