Paula Deen makes appearance at South Beach Wine and Food Festival, receives standing ovation

 

Festival organizer says embattled celebrity chef will always be welcome 'as long as I am here'

Deen Lee SBWFF 2014
Paula Deen pays festival founder Lee Schrager a visit during the 2014 South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Photo: Evan Benn
 

By Evan S. Benn | ebenn@miamiherald.com

Embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen re-emerged in the food-world spotlight Saturday and Sunday at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, thanking her fans who supported her through a racial-slur scandal.

"We love you, Paula!" an audience member shouted during Deen's chicken-and-dumplings cooking demonstration Sunday afternoon. "We want butter!"

"I want butter, too!" she called back.

No hecklers or protesters piped up; Deen's security team had to escort an overly enthusiastic fan away from Deen's husband, Michael Groover, and her mother.

Deen, 67, was embroiled in a racial-discrimination lawsuit last summer that alleged she used the word n----- in front of her employees. In a deposition, Deen acknowledged using the term. A judge dismissed the case, but many of Deen's corporate sponsors dropped her.

The Food Network -- the title sponsor of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival -- canceled her television show. This month, a private-equity firm said it would invest $75 million to $100 million in her comeback.

Lee Schrager, the festival's founder and director, said Sunday that Deen is a friend of his and of the festival, and that "as long as I'm around, she's always welcome here."

Deen got on stage with her son Bobby at Saturday night's Thrillist BBQ & Blues party at the Eden Roc, where she grabbed a microphone and introduced the crowd to her Venezuelan daughter-in-law. On Sunday, she arrived at the Ritz-Carlton with a basket of biscuits in tow for a fried-chicken seminar Schrager was hosting. The Sunday afternoon cooking demo at the Grand Tasting Village was her only scheduled festival appearance.

A full crowd at the demo tent gave Deen, who was looking slimmed-down and tan, a standing ovation. Before she stepped behind the stove, she asked the group if she could "get serious for a minute."

"We have come off of a very hard summer, my family and I," she said. "I want to apologize to those that did not hear me apologize."   

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