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Paula Deen says she's 'back in the saddle'



By J.M. HIRSCH

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Paula Deen continued maneuvering for a comeback Sunday, turning a beachside cooking demonstration into a public apology for the racist comments that decimated her career last year.

The former Food Network star took the stage to prepare chicken and dumplings at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, but before beginning asked the crowd if they minded if she talked about something serious for a moment. Without ever explicitly discussing the allegations or comments she has admitted making, she said she was glad to be back and that, "I am not a quitter."

"We have come off of a very hard summer my family and I, my team, my partners," she said to a cheering crowd of several hundred fans. "But you know, I have heard on more than one occasion ... that I've never apologized. So if anybody did not hear me apologize, I would like to apologize to those who did not hear me."

Deen's career has been in shambles following a one-two punch of public relations disasters. In 2012, she was criticized for announcing she had both diabetes and a lucrative endorsement deal for a drug to treat the condition she'd until then hidden.

Then last summer, during a legal dispute with a former employee who accused her of racial discrimination and sexual harassment, she acknowledged having used racial slurs in the past. Most of her endorsement, book and TV deals fell apart within days.

Deen has mostly stayed out of the spotlight since then, even avoiding the Food Network's 20th anniversary party last October. But lately, she has made it clear she wants back. Earlier this month, she announced that private investment firm Najafi Companies is investing $75 million to $100 million to help her make a comeback.

As part of the deal, she's launching an umbrella company, Paula Deen Ventures, that will oversee her restaurants, cookbooks and product endorsements. And Sunday's crowd seemed primed for it all, shouting out to her "You don't need to apologize!" and "We want you back, Paula!"

"Ya'll's cards and letters that I got, helped me get out of bed every day," she replied.

Midway through the demo, Food Network star Robert Irvine joined Deen onstage. Irvine survived his own scandal in in 2008 when the Food Network let him go over discrepancies in claims he'd made over his work experience. He eventually returned to the Network, seemingly unblemished.

"This is a warning to you," Irvine told Deen. "You've apologized. You've eaten crow. You're done. Don't do it anymore. I've been there."

Before a roaring crowd, Irvine then got down on his hands and knees while Deen straddled his back and rode him across the stage, a reenactment of a gimmick they'd done during a previous festival.

"I'm back in the saddle!" she yelled to the crowd.

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Carl February 25 2014 at 3:59 PM

Give her a friggin break. It's still America, dammit, leand of second chances.....

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tnshisler February 25 2014 at 11:14 AM

Glad your back!

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williamandgayle February 25 2014 at 10:47 AM

There are few people of her generation, back or white, who have never used a racial slur. You think Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson never said Honkey or Cracker or some other derisive term to describe some white person?

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robertlloydmusic February 25 2014 at 9:52 AM

Don't apologize Paula. The Black that stuck the gun in your face is exactly what you called him. For all the decent people in this world... DON'T APOLOGIZE EVER AGAIN. You are beautiful as you are and a fine human being that has blessed this world.

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Swordfish February 25 2014 at 9:51 AM

How do liberals get away with such racism? Obama & Sharpton to name a few...

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IBruzEZ February 25 2014 at 9:07 AM

It is in the past, let it go.! Now, Ted Nugent, he is the one you need to go after.! There is a real louse.

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mgnficntoz February 25 2014 at 8:51 AM

I'm much more concerned by her practice of riding men around than any alleged psuedo racism.

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rhill65 February 25 2014 at 8:28 AM

Good for her; however I for one will never support either her or any of her sponsors!

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MaryEllen February 25 2014 at 8:16 AM

Welcome back Paula,
You were missed. Stop apologizing. People will either let it go or hold it against you and the latter lack character so do not let it bother you. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone . I wish you and your family all of the success in the world and hope to see you on television again one day. Love, love , love you all.

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essiepeaches February 25 2014 at 8:11 AM

Chef Irvine is a very handsome man and very strong. I like both of them.

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