Embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen was in Williamsville this weekend, hosting a cooking demonstration for a near-capacity crowd of 1,100 enthusiastic fans at Samuel's Grande Manor. After entering to a standing ovation, Deen addressed the scandal that erupted last year when it came out that she had used racial slurs. The reaction left her with a cancelled Food Network TV show and caused several retailers such as Home Depot and Walmart to drop her line of cookware.
“I have so many friends here, so many people who believe in me. My partners who never quit believing in me, who knew who I was and were steadfast in your love for me. Thank y’all," Deen said.
At one point, Deen singled out Savino Nanula, the Tops Friendly Markets founder and a partner in her Paula Deen Foods venture, who was sitting in the front row.
"Isn't that right, Nino?" she said, before kissing the top of his head. The crowd laughed and applauded.
She went on to address the scandal directly:
“I had a rough year. My family had a rough year. My partners had a rough year. But we all learned a lot.
In June, when people were saying terrible things about me that were not true, it was heartbreaking. But I told my family, don’t ask me how I know this, but God’s arms are wrapped all around us. We’re gonna be all right. And we’re gonna be better than we ever were.
You’ve got to go down in the valley to enjoy the days when you’re on the peak of that mountain overlooking everything. You’ve got to have those days.
I said I’m not gonna talk about that. And what do I do? First thing I do is come out here and talk about it.
I just want you all to know I cannot ignore it and I can’t go without saying that we are not looking back anymore, we’re only looking to the future and with a family like the Nanulas that have loved me unconditionally and who have believed in me. I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life and I’ve made so many new friends here in Buffalo."
Deen arrived in town Thursday afternoon, stopping in Rochester to visit a Wegmans store, then appearing at Dash's Markets to promote her Springer Mountain Farms chicken.
She also visited Landies Candies, the Buffalo company that makes her Paula Deen Foods sugar-free chocolate, handmaking a batch of chocolate herself. She cut the ribbon on her Paula Deen Foods retail showroom in Clarence Saturday before her appearance at Samuel's Grande Manor.
---Samantha Maziarz Christmann