Ever since Paula Deen's cringe-inducing apology videos and Today Show interview, the celebrity chef has been silent about her crumbling empire. Now, two fellow Food Network stars, Pat and Gina Neely, are speaking up about the Paula they know and the controversy surrounding her.
"We were obviously very shocked and saddened by the allegations that came out because we had never seen any of those examples in the time that we spent with her," Pat Neely tells EBONY. Adding that Paula had never been outwardly racist or prejudice towards them, Pat continued, "We’ve always seen her to be kind and generous towards us."
Deen, 66, has been embroiled in career-breaking scandal after news broke that she admitted in a lawsuit deposition that she and her brother had used racial epithets and tolerated racial jokes in the workplace.As public figures, the husband and wife team understand the pressure to set an example and admit that Deen's actions fell short. "Racial slurs, homophobic slurs or anything degrading to a group of people just simply cannot be tolerated," Pat insists.
For mother and chef Gina Neely, Deen's actions signal a changing tide in American attitudes towards race. "We're going backwards in time as opposed to forward," she says, questioning whether race relations have improved in the past 40 years. "This whole thing kind of made me do a little self evaluation and look at things as whole."
While the network stars primarily interacted with Deen for work and did not know her personally, the Neelys wish her the best. "It's ugly all around," adds Gina, who has not spoken to Deen since the news broke. "You have the empathy for her but it's just not a good situation."
Making matters worse for Deen have been the swift dismissals by sponsors and corporations. With the Food Network’s announcement that it would not be renewing its contract with the Paula’s Home Cooking star, along with QVC, Walmart and others distancing themselves from the celebrity chef and Smithfield Foods cutting ties with her altogether, it appears that Deen’s culinary empire is melting faster than a stick of butter in a hot skillet.
In addition to the $2.5 million that she lost from Food Network cancelling her contract, Deen’s empire also included a magazine, cookbooks, a home furnishing line, independent TV appearances, restaurants and licensing deals. Each has been affected by Deen's tanking image, despite her multiple attempts at a mea culpa and even her reported hiring of real life Olivia Pope a.k.a Judy Smith, a high-priced crisis manager. To date, she has been dropped by Walmart, K-Mart, Home Depot, Target, Smithfield Foods, Caesar's Palace, among others.
"We obviously are praying for Paula and her family," says Pat, hopeful of Deen's return. "This has got to be a very, very difficult time and quite frankly I’m sure she is regretful."