This weekend, celebrity cook Paula Deen made her first public appearance after a scandal spurred initially by her use of racist language and her desire to dress black employees as "slaves." At a cooking trade show in Houston, Deen received a reported 10-minute standing ovation. People reports:
"These are tears of joy, y'all," she said. "This is my first time out in three months. … The one place I wanted to make my first step out was in Texas. You are forgiving folks with hearts as big as your state."
"We all experience pain in some way but pain is also a good thing because it makes you grow," Deen added before joining sons Bobby and Jamie for a cooking demo.
The "pain" to which Deen refers includes, presumably, the loss of various lucrative contracts as people questioned her treatment of black employees, including the so-called soul sister she paid less than $10 an hour. However, Deen has a devoted fan base: Even during the height of the scandal this past summer and despite the cancellation of a five-book deal, her books reached new heights on best-seller lists. Her confident appearance in Houston is all the more striking for her erratic behavior while trying to explain herself this summer, releasing and deleting apology videos and canceling scheduled interviews.
Though Deen's plans for the future are unclear, she seems confident in her ability to recapture the public imagination with her cuisine; an appearance at a trade show in the American South, rebuilding her reputation with her core constituency, seems like a logical first step. But Deen may be thinking a bit longer-range; per People, she sees herself as mounting a comeback. "Near the end of her demo, she walked up to a cameraman, put her face up close to his camera and said with a giant smile, 'I'm back!'"