Paula Deen's return to the spotlight after months in hiding was alternately emotional and confusing for both Deen and the audience who came to watch her demonstration at the Metro Cooking Houston show over the weekend.
Following that nasty scandal regarding Deen's use of racial slurs and the subsequent non-renewal of her Food Network cooking show and cancellation of her latest cookbook, Deen stayed out of the public eye for about three months. Though the scandal caused Deen to lose endorsements and angered some fans, the crowd gathered at Metro Cooking Saturday morning had nothing but love for the celebrity chef. Before Deen entered the auditorium, the crowd began chants of "Paula! Paula! Paula!" and held up signs in support of Deen and her family.
Deen's sons Bobby and Jamie were the first family members onstage. They thanked the crowd for coming, then Bobby introduced his mother, "the most caring and loving woman on this earth," to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
Paula Deen then stepped onstage, tissues in hand, sobbing.
For at least two minutes, the supportive crowd continued standing and cheering while Deen dabbed at her eyes and tried to gain composure. When she finally spoke, Deen admitted her tears were tears of joy.
"This is my first time out in three months," Deen said, still misty-eyed. "The one place I would want to take my first step back out is Texas, because Texas is full of loving, forgiving folks, and y'all's hearts are as big as y'all's state."
Deen went on to acknowledge her "rough patch" this summer, before announcing, "I'm back!" and getting down to business. Sort of.
Throughout the demonstration, during which Deen and her husband and sons worked together to make chicken pot pie, Deen seemed disoriented and alternately giddy and crazy. She was probably overwhelmed by her first public appearance, but the word that kept coming to mind to describe her was "batty." She paced around the stage, forgetting what she had intended to do and redoing parts of the recipe that had already been done, acting like someone's batty -- but sweet -- Southern granny.
There were a number of culinary students seated in the back of the auditorium with the media, and they were overheard complaining that Paula didn't like the woven dough they made for the top of the pot pie.
"When we were making it, she told us to weave the strips tightly together," they said. "And now she's telling the audience we did it wrong. Whatever."
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Part of the way into the pot pie demonstration, the media was asked to leave due to "Deen family rules," which note that public appearances should be treated like concerts, during which only paying ticketholders get to enjoy the entire performance. It seemed odd to most of the media in attendance, especially considering the auditorium was far from full.
Back in the main Metro Cooking showroom, a group of ladies was decked out in their best "We support Paula" garb, including sashes, masks bearing Paula Deen's visage and a banner that read, "DEEN BROTHERS WE SUPPORT YOUR MAMA." Other fans wore "Team Paula Deen" shirts and talked about how happy they were that Deen was back in public and doing well.
Whether or not she's indeed doing well is debatable, but she's clearly lost weight, so she looks healthier and seems happy to be back in front of a devoted and forgiving crowd.
It's not yet clear what Deen's reception will be on the national stage, but Texas is happy to welcome her back, diabetes-inducing peanut butter pie and all.