Paula Deen, Culinary Dreams and Feeling Appreciated as a Chef

 Image of Paula Deen taken as part of a public relations campaign for the nonprofit group Civitan.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse for Paula Deen…  her bread and butter, The Food Network cut ties with her, the publishing company who was championing her new cookbook said, “Buh-bye,” and her list of sponsors are dropping like dead flies.

Does she deserve this for saying the “N” word? I mean, come on.

She’s an older, southern woman with a old southern mentality when it comes to African Americans and it’s part of her reality. Surely, we’ve all said derogatory things about others regarding their race, religion, nationality, weight, height, lack of hair, where they live, and, god knows, how many other things.  There will even be those of you who will read this post and misinterpret what I am saying.

Well, ya’ll, I’m a southern woman too, who happens to be adopted, gay and (now) overweight and I’ve been called by many a nasty name as a chef.  Hell, try writing a blog and read some of the nasty emails you will get when you take a stand.

It does hurt.

Paula Deen has had her own share of adversity in the past and experienced some hard knocks while living as a homemaker in Albany, Georgia. Her parents died, her marriage failed, she was broke and battling Agoraphobia. With $200.00 to her name and a born knack for cooking great southern food, Paula moved to Savannah, Georgia and opened a catering business, “The Bag Lady.” Her business specialized in making sandwiches and meals that she and her two sons (Jamie and Bobby) delivered in bags to downtown businesses.

The concept took off and she was able to grow and create her culinary dream of opening a restaurant.

Paula also self-published a cookbook, which got the attention of a literary agent from a major publishing house. Her notoriety grew further when she promoted the cookbook on QVC. Paula’s relationship with The Food Network started in 1999 when she was introduced to Top Chef, Gordon Elliot.

The rest, as they say, is history — and that’s an understatement.

Fast forward to the lawsuit by Lisa T. Jackson,  a former employee of Deen and her brother, Bubba Hier at the restaurants, “The Lady and Sons” and “Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House.”   Jackson alleges that “Paula and Bubba allegedly committed numerous acts of violence, discrimination and racism which led to the end of her 5 year employment.”   Paula admits to using the “N word,” but only when a black man burst into the bank many years ago and put a gun to her head.

Give me a break.

Whether Lisa Jackson’s allegations are true, or she is just in the market to get rich on Paula’s dollar,  Paula Deen certainly has learned a really hard dream lesson.  We all know what difficult life lessons feel like and they are something that either cause us to change our more negative traits –or reflect on  it for a while then blow it off  and continue the bad behavior.

If I had an opportunity to help Paula “do it a different way”  I would offer her these few tips:

  • Let your attorney and publicist handle it from the beginning.
  • Lose the ego and stop thinking that just because you are famous means you can get away with anything.
  • Keep your mouth shut more than you have in the past including eating with your mouth open on national television.

Whether you choose to forgive Paula Deen or not is strictly up to you.  I personally think part of this is a double standard.  Many people make a living from saying asinine things about others and degrading people’s race, gender and sexuality on television or on the radio, and yet, that seems to be fine.  I guess if I wanted to be mean too I could call Paula a fat, obnoxious, former Food Network puppet who was probably told to “kick it up a notch” with tripling the “Ya’lls” and whatever it took to dance to the tune of higher television ratings.

But I won’t.

As a chef who is all of the things I mentioned above and who has also overcome a lot of adversity,  I am hyper-sensitive to anything derogatory.

I presently am experiencing a huge growth in my business and know I am on the verge of a critical mass success.   For the first time in many years, I my work leaves me feeling fufilled and appreciated by my clients.  It’s reminded me how much everyone wants to feel appreciated and loved.

Through my own mistakes in hurting others, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is:

The tongue has no bones, but is strong enough to break a heart.  Be careful with your words.

Perhaps a fun test would be to write Paula a letter and invite her to your home to cook collard greens, eat watermelon, and decorate your lawn jockey and see if she accepts.

Hopefully she wouldn’t…

And hopefully she’s learned her lesson and the suffering will end soon and the culinary industry can go back to doing what it does best: creating good food with a lot of love, sweat and tears.

This week’s recipe is a Paula Deen original.  Throw caution to the wind regarding calories and have fun, y’all.

Maria

Chicken and Dumplings by Paula Deen

Chicken and Dumplings

Serves 6

  • 1 (2 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into 8 piece
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • Salt,  black pepper, garlic powder to taste
  • 1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of celery or cream of chicken soup

Dumplings:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Ice water

Directions

To start the chicken: Place the chicken, celery, onion, bay leaves, bouillon, and House Seasoning in a large pot. Add 4 quarts of water and in water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer the chicken until it is tender and the thigh juices run clear, about 40 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and, when it is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and separate the meat from the bones. Return the chicken meat to the pot. Keep warm over low heat.

To prepare the dumplings: Mix the flour with the salt and mound together in a mixing bowl. Beginning at the center of the mound, drizzle a small amount of ice water over the flour. Using your fingers, and moving from the center to the sides of the bowl, gradually incorporate about 3/4 cup of ice water. Knead the dough and form it into ball.

Dust a good amount of flour onto a clean work surface. Roll out the dough (it will be firm), working from center to 1/8-inch thick. Let the dough relax for several minutes.

Add the cream of celery soup to the pot with the chicken and simmer gently over medium-low heat.

Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces. Pull a piece in half and drop the halves into the simmering soup. Repeat. Do not stir the chicken once the dumplings have been added. Gently move the pot in a circular motion so the dumplings become submerged and cook evenly. Cook until the dumplings float and are no longer doughy, 3 to 4 minutes.

To serve, ladle chicken, gravy, and dumplings into warm bowls.

Chef’s Note: If the chicken stew is too thin it can be thickened before the dumplings are added. Simply mix together 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 1/4 cup of water then whisk this mixture into the stew.

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  • Maria,

    I love that you took a chance and put this topic out there since it is so timely with your dream life. I find it even more interesting that you call this trait in Paula Deen “negative,” but some readers don’t seem to be reading that you do call her out on her behavior. The fact that you cut her some slack for her age enrages some without them knowing your nationality, who you are as a person, and whether you’ve been a victim of discrimination and hate and why you have a unique view of this situation, especially since you’ve seen so much in New Orleans and decided to leave that world behind — except for the food and the alcohol and the dancing and the music.

    My mother, 85, and a depression-era survivor has some ingrained negative traits too leftover from the era she was raised in, as I am sure I will too when and if I reach her age. But this story does make me feel lucky for how open she was to people — no matter their race, education, or income. You were always welcome in our home no matter your background — especially if you were hungry. As a public health nurse, and being someone who was raised on a farm and had to kill with her bare hands as a part of eating to stay alive, she also had a practical way of looking at people and forgave people their misgivings. She attributed any bad habit or negative way of being to lack of education and love.

    We traveled a lot and I learned that we all are the same. I don’t understand the whole Paula story, but I would like to because it’s a reminder of how dangerous it is to disconnect yourself from your dream when you become successful and are riding that high of uber-success. It can magnify your negative qualities if you are not surrounded by people who love you and have your best interests at heart — who are not afraid to look you in the face and tell you that you are way off base and you need an attitude adjustment — and then being receptive to trusting their feedback and hearing what they are telling you.

    That’s not easy.

    And my guess is that she just wasn’t listening.

    Catherine

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  • Martha

    The allegations are about discriminatory actions and attitudes against employees in the workplace. The media has been reporting that Paula condoned at least some of these things. If it is true that Paula either took part or stood by and let it happen knowingly, then she’s guilty of discrimination in the workplace. This has nothing to do with someone using the ‘n’ word in music and getting away with it. A comment can be racist and hateful without using the ‘n’ word. The ‘n’ word can be used by a black person to another black person in a non-racist manner. Aside from using the ‘n’ word to describe a bank robber, apparently Paula is being accused in the media of using it very recently when she said she wanted a bunch of little ‘n’s’ to dress up like slaves to serve at her brother’s wedding. Southern or not, 66 or not, she knows the laws about discrimination in the workplace and she is probably well aware of the clauses in her various contracts that led to her losing those contracts over this issue.

  • kellyswanson1

    If she gets her entire career taken away from her because she said the N word, then let’s go find everyone else out there using that word and hold them accountable. I’ll start by turning on the radio. If a word is inexcusable then it is inexcusable for all. Isn’t that what equality is all about? And on another note, if I’m going to hold someone’s words, actions, and sins against them, I’d better start by looking at my own. We are all guilty of saying or doing something that our neighbor considers wrong.

  • Leigh Stevens

    i think this is in very poor taste. It’s too bad what happened to Paula, but she made her own troubles worse by not showing regret or remorse, indeed in her deposition, she said “of course I said that word”. “Of course”?? What? Of course you’re a racist, because you’re an older white southern lady? – and that was far from the only incident that led to her unfortunate downfall. As Natalie Dupree said on the radio today, most southern ladies are enraged about this.

    • realmaria

      thank you leigh for your comment. it is greatly appreciated and well taken with respect. bless your heart.

  • ImanWoods

    I love your tips to her! It’s SUCH a complex issue.

    • realmaria

      xoxo
      very complex and it hits nerves with everyone.

  • Therese Trautwein Norton

    I love this! I agree – I was incensed at PD at first – but let her redeem herself. I think the politically correct media is letting this get out of control – almost as if they’re making up for giving her too big a pass on the diabetes hoo-ha. There is no evidence that she has been racist – only that she used a word 3 decades ago. She has been tried and convicted in the media – not cool. Let her prove that she’s as decent as she says she is. But my question is, how? Viva chicken & dumplings!

    • realmaria

      amen therese! enough already. if they are going to torture her, torture the rest of the people who continue to use abusive language towards people in songs and otherwise.
      for god’s sake, give the woman some butter and leave her alone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!