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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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bochemilner February 24 2014 at 3:40 PM

Good luck Paula. I think you're a very nice person regardless of the desperate media thinks.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
mclkarim bochemilner February 24 2014 at 3:54 PM

She is a really nice person. That's all there is to it.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
ninersbythebaynj February 24 2014 at 3:28 PM

Get her back AGAIN!! Nuff said!!

Flag Reply +5 rate up
navycva11 February 24 2014 at 3:27 PM

Good for her. She wins.........the politically correct crowd gets punked again!!!!

Flag Reply +8 rate up
pugpatsy1 February 24 2014 at 3:26 PM

I'm so Happy for you Paula. You are missed. I haven't watched QVC since they turned there back on you. I won't either till they have you on as a Special Guest.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
1 reply
Liebchken pugpatsy1 February 24 2014 at 3:28 PM

Me three

Flag Reply +5 rate up
Chabs15 February 24 2014 at 3:25 PM

Paula, dont apologize anymore!!! You've been missed.....

Flag Reply +6 rate up
Rosemary February 24 2014 at 3:25 PM

Glad you're back, Paula -- you make me smile!

Flag Reply +6 rate up
bonbon2529 February 24 2014 at 3:24 PM

Good for you, don't stop coming back! Nonsense in the first place.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
Sylvia February 24 2014 at 3:22 PM

I am soooo! happy for you. Good for you! and welcome back

Flag Reply +8 rate up
1 reply
natalie Sylvia February 24 2014 at 4:05 PM

she aynt back, just words now, she will never be what she used to be, it's her own fault... she will have to encourage trust again..

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Meryl February 24 2014 at 3:17 PM

I am glad your back. I love you and all your shows. The Food Network is not the same without you. I hope you come back bigger and better then before. Lots of luck.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
jpcsls February 24 2014 at 3:28 PM

GOOD ! She shouldn't have backed down in the first place !

Flag Reply +6 rate up
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