After a three-month hiatus from public life following controversial racial statements and failed attempts at an apology, Paula Deen had one message for the throng of nearly 1,500 fans who came to see her at the MetroCooking Show at Reliant Park Saturday.
Prior to that moment, the crowd, including those who had sold out the $400 VIP section, had been buzzing with anticipation. They’d seen a slideshow touting Paula Deen cruises (Party With Bobby! Participate in a Michael Look-a-Like contest) and listened to a steady Motown soundtrack ("Midnight Train to Georgia," "My Girl").
“I’ve had a little rough patch this summer. It was an opportunity to learn about myself.”
Between the crowd’s chants of “We love you, Paula!” and the presence of all four major Houston TV stations, the room had a circus-like atmosphere that was exacerbated by the presence of a gun show in an adjoining hall: "Guns, this way, Cook, that way," a sign advised. In lieu of clowns, it featured powder-covered participants from an event called Run or Dye.
Deen’s sons Jamie and Bobby appeared first. Bobby told the crowd that he’s “proud of his mother . . . the most caring, loving person in all this world.”
With the audience sufficiently primed, Deen entered to a standing ovation. Dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief in a display of emotion, her first words to the crowd were, “These are tears of joy, y’all.”
“This is my first time out in three months.”
Working the crowd
Like a rock star telling the crowd that their city is better than a rival, Deen worked the crowd masterfully. “I’ve said all along the one place I want to make my first step out is Texas,” she exclaimed. Cue thunderous, sustained applause.
The room had a circus-like atmosphere that was exacerbated by the presence of a gun show in an adjoining hall: "Guns, this way, Cook, that way," a sign advised.
Deen immediately, if obliquely, addressed the controversy that led the Food Network to decide not to renew her contract and sponsors to abandon her. “I’ve had a little rough patch this summer. It was an opportunity to learn about myself.” She did not address what exactly she learned. The consensus among the media throng was that she looked thinner and healthier than she had this summer. Assessments of her demeanor were somewhat less kind, ranging from "emotional" to "loopy."
“I want to thank y’all from the bottom of my heart,” she told the crowd, triggering another round of applause.
She then called the rest of her family on stage to join her. That included her husband, Michael, his brothers, Hank and Nick, Nick’s wife, and Bobby’s new wife Claudia, who Deen called “the mother of my future grandchildren.”
Just prior to beginning her cooking demonstration, Deen had one final thought. “We live in such a serious world. It’s always been my wish for y’all to enjoy being with my family and forget about what irks you.”
Then it was time for Deen, her sons and her husband to make chicken pot pie. Event organizers instructed all of the media members to leave the auditorium. Just like certain concerts, they would only get to see 15 minutes of the show for free. Deen, her family and her fans could finally have some privacy.