Paula Deen is Back, But How did She Get There?

Paula Deen is one of the most famous celebrity chefs in the world. She’s known for her good old-fasthioned, down home, southern cooking. She’s also known for her love of butter, and her for ability to stay in the midst of controversy no matter how hard she tries not to. She might be one of the most famous faces in the world, but that doesn’t mean her career is without controversy or without its downfalls.

Born on January 19, 1967, Paula Deen is a southerner to the soul. She married Jimmy Deen in 1965 and divorced him in 1989. A dozen years later, she married Michael Groover. She’s the owner of several successful restaurants, she’s been the host of numerous television shows and she’s even won an Emmy award for being an outstanding Lifestyle host. Paula Ann Hiers Deen is a devout Baptist and has been since childhood. The celebrity chef lost her parents in her early 20s and she suffered greatly as a teen from panic attacks and agoraphobia, which is the fear of being in crowds. Fortunately, she was able to overcome her fear and manage to work through her issues. Without this ability, her career certainly would not have been what it turned into.

However, without her fear of being in public, the celebrity chef never would have learned how to cook. She decided, when she was too afraid to leave the house, to focus her energy on learning to become an amazing southern chef – and it paid off for her a million times. Most of the cooking she does comes from the craft her grandmother taught her. She spent so many years living in fear of the public that when she left her husband in the late 1980s, she had nothing to show for it but $200. Not knowing what she would do with her life at that point, she moved to Savannah, Georgia and she decided to go into different businesses. She tried her hand at banking, real estate and several other things, but all failed miserably. It wasn’t until she began catering and having her sons, Bobby and Jamie, deliver her food that she first began to see success. She called her business “The Bag Lady,” and she outgrew her house as soon as she began cooking.

Paula Deen’s Resturants and Other Ventures

When The Bag Lady became too big for her kitchen, she opened up a restaurant in the Best Western hotel in Savannah called The Lady. This was 1991. It was only five years later that her significant success allowed her to open The Lady & Sons in downtown Savannah, and her success began to grow even more. Her restaurant was a very down home type place that served comfort food, and that’s what it still is today. Her meals were buffet style and came with the choice of a salad from the salad bar as well as one of her decadent desserts. It’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Savannah.

Additionally, Deen opened a restaurant in Tunica County, Mississippi in the Harrah’s Tunica Casino. The buffet was created to look just like the home in which she lives in Savannah. The restaurant closed in 2013. Her other restaurants, Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, in Savannah, closed suddenly in 2014. Rumor has it that the restaurant closed so that a new location on the water could be opened. In 2009, Deen announced that Walmart was going to begin selling a dessert line created by her. The line would feature ooey-gooey goodness in the form of pies such as Apple Crunch, Dark Rum Pecan and Old Fashioned Fudge among others. It’s been a successful line for the chef, which only speaks her to ability to cook.

Before she became a big Food Network chef, Paula Deen was already making her mark in Savannah. She began publishing a cookbook in 1997. The book featured recipes from her restaurant as well as other family recipes she grew up cooking and people loved. She did very well with the sale of her cookbooks, even appearing on The Oprah Winfrey show several times over the course of her career. Deen also went to QVC to sell her books, which was yet another major success for the star.

By the time 2007 rolled around, Deen was one of the most famous faces in the country, and Simon & Schuster decided to publish her memoir, which told her life story. “It Ain’t All About the Cookin’” was a huge success and continues to sell very well even today. By 2009, the magazine she began publishing in 2005 had an annual circulation of more than 7.5 million people.

Paula Deen and Food Network

Some people are shocked to realize that Paula Deen hasn’t been in their kitchen their entire lives. In fact, the most famous southern chef in the country hasn’t even been on the Food Network that long in reality. She’s been appearing on the network since 1999, which was when she was introduced to Gordon Elliot by a friend. It would be another two years before Deen even got her own show on the network, not appearing in her own show until 2002. For the two years prior to the launch of her show, she was a regular on other cooking shows, and the people just adored her. It’s hard not to with that southern drawl and down home cooking.

In November 2002, her first show premiered on The Food Network. It was called Paula’s Home Cooking, and it was a huge success. She was met with love from all over the country, especially people in the south who wanted to make their dishes as amazing as Paula Deen makes them. In 2006, her second show called Paula’s Party began to air on the same network, and two years later Paula’s Best Dishes began to air on the network.

For nearly a decade, Paula’s recipes and show were hugely popular, and her fans loved her. However, that doesn’t mean her career wasn’t without controversy. In fact, her shows are among The Food Network’s most controversial, and her personal story is one that is a bit questionable in the eyes of many.

Paula Deen’s Controversy

The first thing people began to realize that they did not like about Paula Deen was the fact that she uses a lot of unhealthy ingredients in her meals. In her defense, the health trend didn’t really start until well into the 2000s, and southern cooking wasn’t known for being healthy until that trend started. In fact, it was known as being some of the best food in the world, and people simply didn’t care that it wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t the kind of food people made nightly; it was the kind of stuff that made holidays and big Sunday dinners a hit.

However, people began to criticize Deen for the fact that she fries most things, adds too much butter to everything, and doesn’t have any regard for health when she cooks. Her first bout of criticism began when she launched a cookbook called “Lunch-Box Set,” which was designed with children in mind. Barbara Walters began to accuse Deen of trying to make kids fatter than ever when the country was facing its worst obesity crisis to date. She said of the book, “You tell kids to have cheesecake for breakfast. You tell them to have chocolate cake and meatloaf for lunch. And French fries. Doesn’t it bother you that you’re adding to this?” she questioned of childhood obesity. It was some serious criticism, but it wasn’t terrible until 2012, when her career took its first big hit.

In January 2012, Deen announced that she’d been living with Type 2 Diabetes since being diagnosed in 2009. She was faced then with a lot of criticism given the fact that she was making all this food with butter and other unhealthy ingredients and urging the rest of the world to eat them, even though they were making her unhealthier than she already was. It was a bad time for the celebrity chef, and it didn’t get any better over the course of the next year.

None of her contracts dropped her, but her show changed dramatically and her son’s began their own show in which they took their mom’s classic recipes and adapted them so that they’re much healthier and much more appropriate for the general public to consume on a regular basis. However, the reason that she was criticized most for this was the fact that she admitted to having diabetes only after signing a contract with a Danish pharmaceutical company to promote medication for diabetes. The general public felt that without this multimillion dollar contract, she would have continued to lie to them and encourage them to eat the way she taught without any regard to the fact that it might make everyone sick.

Just when it looked as if her career couldn’t get any worse, Deen was accused of using inappropriate racial slurs in front of one of her employees who happened to have nephew’s that are half-black. She was accused of using the “N” word, and she was taken to court because of it. The lawsuit being filed was against Deen by a former employee and it was alleging that she was engaged in racial and sexual discrimination. When she announced under other in August 2013 that she had over the course of her life used the “N” word, she was promptly dropped from The Food Network and she was dropped from several of her other business ventures.

Some believed that this was the right course of action. Others believed that it was a bit extreme. Deen openly admitted to using the word during her youth and when repeating stories she’d been told or that she’d witnessed, but that she hadn’t in many decades used the word herself. She went on to say that the time she grew up was very different than current times. She was born in the 1940s and she was raised in the south during a time when racism was prevalent and that word was used regularly. She admitted that she was not a racist and that she doesn’t use the word anymore, but she was still dropped from many of her contracts. The lawsuit against her was dismissed, but her career was already damaged.

Walmart, Target, QVC, The Food Network, JC Penney, Sears, Kmart, Novo Nordisk, Home Depot and many other companies all decided to cancel her contracts at that point, believing that continuing their relationship with the southern food star would make it appear that they endorse racism. It was a huge blow for Deen.

Paula Deen on the Rise

After working successfully in the food industry for more than 20 years, Paula Deen was not about to let her big fall be the end of her career and her hard-earned reputation. She announced in 2014 that she would be unveiling her very own television network on September 24, 2014. The network is said to be one that is going to allow her fans and users to do something very different than on other networks. For example, her southern cooking is going to be able to be accessed by her fans on smart phones and tablets because the network is a full digital experience.

Deen’s announcement was met with a lot of support from her fans who appreciate her cooking and want to learn how to be a southern chef. It appears that while the network has not yet made its debut, it is going to be Deen’s big comeback. The network is giving her the ability to come back as her own boss and show her fans that she’s not ready to go anywhere. Those who appreciate Deen and have forgiven her for her long-ago poor choices in language have expressed happiness that the woman with the sweet southern accent and love of butter is coming back to television to help them create the kind of amazing southern cooking that the world loves.

(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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