Pop Culture

Have You Heard of Paula Deen's New Show?

October 15, 2016

Paula Deen's first national syndicated cooking and lifestyle show, Positively Paula, premieres today in (very) select markets—a measly 24 states. Given this, a good swath of its intended audience will probably be unable to access it. "It's just a little weird to have to go through so much trouble just to find your shows," one of the top Facebook comments on the post announcing her show reads, bemoaning her absence from her former domain, the Food Network. "Too bad it can't be like it used to be."

With Positively Paula, Deen has engineered a product expressly for those who miss her, seemingly uninterested in making amends with a greater American populace. The season is composed of twenty-six half-hour episodes featuring her cooking out of her home kitchen in Savannah, Georgia, with occasional celebrity guests like Tom Berenger. She's created a show for the fans who haven't disavowed her, but, considering the remarkable difficulty of even watching the show, Deen seems to be preaching to a choir who cannot even hear her.

Paula Deen with her daughter-in-law, Claudia. Photo by Key Group Worldwide

At first glance, Positively Paula may seem like the latest stop in Deen's apparent redemption campaign. This is certainly how outlets covering Positively Paula have spun it. Imposing this kind of arc onto Deen's career strikes me as simplistic, though—Positively Paula's aims are especially unclear. In the three years after Deen admitted to using racial slurs in the workplace, it seems that Deen's bid for redemption has been riddled with false starts. Just last year, her social media manager posted a photo to her Twitter featuring an old photo of her and her son cosplaying as Desi Arnaz—in brownface. That's quite a hiccup for a woman known in many corners for her perceived racial insensitivity.

Shop the Story

Given this context, is Positively Paula a 'comeback'? Look a little closer:

Man. If Deen's found herself in the spotlight again, it's a rather dim one. The three-minute sizzle reel for the show is plastered with ungainly Century Gothic font and some gentle ribbing between her and her son. She talks about her first facial. There is an extreme close-up of her with cucumbers resting atop her corneas. The frames are filled with her putting dollops of cream upon piles of Chessmen cookies and frying chicken, telling us of the nostalgic potency of that very act. "Some things that'll almost make you weep...because the memories that flood back, and all good memories," she says.

By evidence of these three minutes, there is nothing new about Deen here. It is a retread of what we've seen before—just with slapdash production—aggressively insisting that Deen is a relatable woman with a good heart. (For the record, I'd love to be proven wrong on this front. When I asked the show's public relations representative for screeners, he told me they didn't have any, and he seemed reticent to give more information.) This very quality—Deen's affability—is, after all, largely responsible for her ascendance to popular favor in the early aughts. Deen gained fans through the magnetism of her backstory: She was a daughter who lost her parents before she turned 23, a woman who was once married to an alcoholic, a single mother to two sons, an entrepreneur who began a business with meager resources.

Time has clearly abstracted the uglier details of how deeply she hurt people. The fact that Deen got caught using racial slurs in the workplace became folded into her narrative of stalwart survivalism, convincing her acolytes that she can withstand just about any trying situation. Just look at the unanimous support she garners on social media. Reading these responses, I'm reminded of what Taffy-Brodesser Akner observed two years ago on Matter, that "Paula’s comeback isn’t about forgiveness — it’s about standing her ground."

Paula Deen with her son, Bobby. Photo by Key Group Worldwide

The press materials accompanying Positively Paula revise accordingly, acting as if Deen's career began in 2014. Her biography, for example, opens with the reminder that she has sold more than 11 million copies of her 14 cookbooks before pivoting swiftly to everything she's done since 2013. She conducted a live tour, "Paula Deen Live!", and launched the subscribers-only digital network Paula Deen Network. It mentions her "first free mobile game," Paula Deen's Recipe Quest, and her podcast, What's Cooking with Paula Deen. There's even a radio show, Get Cooking with Paula Deen. It brags about her "Facebook (4,582,864 likes), Twitter (1.44 million followers) and Pinterest (281,800 followers)," proof that people still love her, as if to say, look at everything she's accomplished—have you heard?

It's just impossible to look at all of these press elements in concert—and the minimal effort put into them—and have a takeaway that Paula Deen wants to make amends with the greater American public, or even be seen by them. Which is why positioning Positively Paula as a mainstream comeback is a baffling conclusion to me—its website, replete with links that are dead and images that don't load, speaks to the fact that we've learned not to give this woman the loud, hypervisible platform she once occupied. And Deen herself has kept kind of mum about this apparent "comeback." On her official site, she has posted an interview about the show—with her son, not an actual press outlet.

Photo by Key Group Worldwide

Perhaps the most confounding line of the press package is the one that casually refers to Deen as the "Queen of Southern Cuisine." Who believes she is the "Queen of Southern Cuisine"? Or, better yet, was she ever?

From 2016's purview, seeing this sobriquet attached to Deen recalls this letter Food52 friend Michael Twitty wrote to Deen on the "erasure of the black presence from the American culinary memory," and Deen's complicity in it. He issued a rejoinder to the very point that Deen's camp passes off as fact. "Don’t forget that the Southern food you have been crowned the queen of was made into an art largely in the hands of enslaved cooks," Twitty reminded Deen. "Some like the ones who prepared food on your ancestor’s Georgia plantation."

Yet the truths contained in his argument—that Deen wielded a kind of power and influence over the way America imagines Southern cuisine, a responsibility she perhaps wasn't equipped to deal with—don't seem to have stuck with Deen, who refuses to forfeit this title. Twitty's letter went viral, and in it, he gave Deen an opportunity to engage with him. She never responded.

Positively Paula will be airing in (very, very) select markets starting today, October 15th.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • wenderzz
  • Karin Byars
    Karin Byars
  • GorillaGrilla
  • Janet Hcnyl
    Janet Hcnyl
  • Joseph McCain
    Joseph McCain
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


wenderzz October 24, 2016
I have to say, I'm not a fan so far of Mr. Sen's writing. I'm pretty far left, so it's not the politics I disagree with here. While I do think these discussions have a place on Food52, these have all seemed pretty one-sided. The letter from Michael Twitty is much more even in tone than 90% of what I've seen this writer produce so far.

Also, that's not Century Gothic on her video, the shapes of the capital P and lower case s are inconsistent with that font. I do agree it's pretty clumsy looking, whatever it is.
wenderzz October 24, 2016
Dude, you have got to go away. You are free to disagree with liberals, but that does not magically mean that "liberalism is a mental disorder." The American Psychiatric Association will back me up.
Karin B. October 18, 2016
This article is attracting comments that will curdle the cream in your coffee. I tried to post that on Sunday and was instructed to comment using face book. If that happens again food 52 is dead to me.
Kenzi W. October 19, 2016
Hey Karin—we're confused about what you mean and want to fix this for you. Could you give us a little more information, or use [email protected] so we can help you troubleshoot?
GorillaGrilla October 17, 2016

Janet H. October 16, 2016
I've seen Paula's past shows once or twice. I'm not an avid food type of channel watcher, but if I stumble into Paula's new show, I'll probably watch it simply out of curiosity. By the way, I'm new to food52.com. Brand-new (as in probably 10 minutes ago). The first writeup I read was this one that I am commenting on. I found it offensive. I obviously was mistaken as to what this website is about. Judging by this writeup, it's about judging people and not food. Bummer.
Fred R. October 17, 2016
You should try something for longer than 10 minutes before judging. Heck, you can't cook pasta in that time. Bye bye.
Joseph M. October 16, 2016
@Kenzi Wilbur. Your response gives me no choice but to Unsubscribe from FOOD52. No further comments.
Kenzi W. October 16, 2016
I wanted to jump in here quickly to remind everyone that we welcome and encourage productive discussions so long as they're constructive—but we will step in to remove any comments that are abusive, per our terms of service. Part of our mission here at Food52 is to eat and engage with food thoughtfully, and that includes doing so far beyond just recipes and cooking. Kelley couldn't have said it better: Food is about and worthy of so much more than only those things, which is exactly why we're excited to be writing about subjects like this.
Joseph M. October 16, 2016
Glad to know Mr. Sen is reading these comments. Unfortunately he only comments on the positive responses to his views. Very disturbing that he considers his own view as appropriate for Food52 while thousands of subscribers consider his remarks as improperly placed on an exceptional Food Site. Politics and Personal Sentiments do Not belong on FOOD52. I subscribed to this site for recipes and features on cooking that I enjoy and intend to continue but Mr. Sen has tarnished the entire concept of FOOD52.
And that is for the record.
Moshee October 17, 2016
Tarnished the entire concept of Food52? Are you serious? Who are you to speak on what belongs on Food52?
ChefJune October 17, 2016
I'm guessing that the folks at Food52 who hired Mr. Sen to write this type of article knew what they were doing. Personally, I would love to see him do an article on Toni Tipton-Martin's ground breaking and award-winning "The Jemima Code" that was published by University of Texas Press last year.
And I'm looking forward to his review of Michael Twitty's book coming in November.
Karl I. October 16, 2016
I am curious to know which markets will air the show; certainly not Philly!
Moshee October 17, 2016
I was thinking the same thing - although I'm almost 100% positive it WILL air in my market - Charlotte, NC :(
Kelley B. October 16, 2016
for the record, I really commend you all for making space for pieces that are more critical and substantial in relation to current events. food is about culture, community, and history, and if an outlet dedicated to food chooses to forgo those things, the content can only be so meaningful. hopefully this site can be a space where those of us who love food can have productive discussions surrounding all aspects of it.
Mayukh S. October 16, 2016
I really appreciate that, Kelley—thank you.
Panfusine October 16, 2016
Second that.
MarieGlobetrotter October 17, 2016
I agree. This was an excellent article and opinion piece.There should have more of these on Food52 (even if it leads to some negative or crazy comments). We need to be able to look at the food and entertainment industry with a critical eye, and that includes negative criticism.
Moshee October 17, 2016
I couldn't agree more!
peach49 October 16, 2016
I should add, I really do not care what Mr. Sen thinks. Can he get a job at the NYT?
Joseph M. October 16, 2016
Food or Politics?? Your decision FOOD52.
peach49 October 16, 2016
This kind of commentary by Mr Sen has no place on this site. If this is the direction we can expect, then I , for one will find another place to go for recipes and advice. I hope the editors will see the error of their ways. Why ruin a good thing.
Joseph M. October 16, 2016
I fully agree with peach49. If Food52 continues this type of commentary I WILL unsubscribe!!
mmurray October 16, 2016
peach49, I actually agree with you. This is the third such article in about a week, the first what seemed to be a position piece on "Columbusing" which I (as well as many others) thought was not only inaccurate but wrong-headed in so many ways. The second on cow burps needs no discussion ( a serious subject handled in a sophomoric way), and now this. But I was so shaken by the vitriol in the comments, I never got the chance to comment on the article itself. But I couldn't agree more. Often when an effort is made to be "provocative" it really is just so wrong for the spirit of the site and why so many of us come here, especially these days. Amanda and Merrill, hope you're listening and reading.....
Joseph M. October 16, 2016
Agree. And take Action.
Moshee October 17, 2016
Amanda and Merrill are the only folks who can decide what has a place on this site. If you can't deal with opinions that are different from you, don't read the article. Find your recipes & move on. It's that easy.
mmurray October 16, 2016
wow, I can't believe the comments here. This site always welcomes and encourages differences of opinion on FOOD RELATED SUBJECTS. I come to this site to escape not only the news but the vile comments about it which is virtually inescapable these days. This used to be a haven of respectability for the most part and staying on the subject what brings us all here. Even taking into account how vitriolic the Piglet got last year, I have never seen or read anything like in this comment section on this site. The writer wrote about a subject that was on a food related topic. Discuss that. I am disgusted with how this thread has descended into such expressions of political agendas and just plain meanness. Just please stop. Connie M and Bill please go somewhere else to continue this political dialogue. And take Made in America with you. Go cook something for yourselves and people you love with a recipe from this site. You'll feel better. It sure would be sad if this site is no longer a place we can come to talk food, and do it respectfully.
Joseph M. October 16, 2016
I will be publishing a Political Cookbook that includes recipes using the nasty ingredients written in this comment section. NOT Really but damn it might make the bestselling list.
connie M. October 16, 2016
Shut up Bill!!!!
connie M. October 16, 2016
Okay, so I don't agree with Paula's views; but, I have a lot of her recipes in my cupboard that I love and consistently use. As to the great TV chefs, everyone has to cook Italian with pasta, tons of hot peppers, or loaded with cilantro, yuk to all. Ina is the only one I watch. I grow tired of the crucifing of Paula when there is a Presidential candidate who has said far worse, in front of the camera and was proud of it! I am German and remember another hateful dictator.
Made I. October 16, 2016
The challenge the Trumpetts have is that they now know he WILL Not be President, thus the foul mouth rhetoric that DJT and his supporters spew. I don't have a problem with people having different governing views, it is when race, gender and religion take over the conversation to make the point of who deserves the privileges of America. I have a more independent thought on how the country should be run, but these far right thinking people have allowed so many laws that don't aspire to make america great. The plan is to keep the rich rich and the poor poor with the races and religions fighting to divert the fact that the powers that be don't want the Trumpetts to benefit from the economic system either. The way the constitution was set up was to keep classes with slavery in mind. Even the amendments made have provisions that now allowed access to some (GO TO #Netflix and watch "The 13th") based on the socio-economic status. Those in power need the rich. The poor who need to work or be enslaved to the rich. A middle to do the work of keeping everyone in line. Don't forget the monitors (military, police, sheriff) to watch and protect the rich and middle, If you can keep the middle thinking that the rich really care then you will be able to have an army (middle) ready to defend the rich against any change As a "middle class" citizen who sees the injustices perpetrated for the greater good of the rich and upper middle-class, I have no fear voting to make the system elevate the poor, support the efforts of the middle and make the rich pay their fair share of the taxes that this land has afforded them. This is a cooking site that I enjoy but to think that we can ever have a convo that does not require us to at least be honest with the truths. Paula Dean learned how to cook from the very Black people that she has held down, verbally attacked, economically raped of royalties that she benefits from. Happy cooking. Panfusine, I agree
Panfusine October 16, 2016
TO quote from an ol' Southern classic 'Gone with the wind' , she fits the Mammy's pre-Bonnie description of Rhett Butler - 'Mule in horses harness', WE need a proper re-education of traditional Southern cuisine with its deep history and stories to unlearn the version Ms. Deen has unleashed!
Moshee October 17, 2016
YES! This is so on point.
Fred R. October 16, 2016
She at least seems to enjoy cooking, but her two dufus sons really seem like parasites on her "fame."
Anne T. October 16, 2016
If, heaven help us, DJT is elected president, perhaps he will name Paula to be White House chef. Fitting partners.
Panfusine October 16, 2016
AARGH, I was hoping politics would not be dragged in to this, but you NAILED IT!
Saffron3 October 16, 2016
Hey Bill? Go make your own website and leave us little ducks alone, please?
Sara L. October 16, 2016
Darn. Positively Paula isn't being carried in any station in my vicinity -- the greater DC metro area. Quelle surprise!