As the dust begins to settle around the Paula Deen controversy and the folks at Food Network considering bringing her back to their network “in a year or two, under different circumstances,” one of the celebrity chef’s closes associates is speaking out.
Dora Charles, one of Deen’s trusted cooks and self-described “soul sister,” shared her story with the New York Times and it paints another damming picture of the once loved chef.
Charles, who worked with Deen for many years, said the former Food Network star used racial slurs, asked Charles’ cousin Ineata Jones to make hoecakes (a cornmeal pancake) dressed in “an old-style Aunt Jemima outfit,’ and paid her subpar wages although Deen said she would be “devastated” if she ever lost Charles.
Check out an excerpt from The New York Times:
Mrs. Charles spent years making less than $10 an hour, even after Ms. Deen became a Food Network star. And there were tough moments. She said Ms. Deen used racial slurs. Once she wanted Mrs. Charles to ring a dinner bell in front of the restaurant, hollering for people to come and get it.
“I said, ‘I’m not ringing no bell,’ ” Mrs. Charles said. “That’s a symbol to me of what we used to do back in the day.”
For a black woman in Savannah with a ninth-grade education, though, it was good steady work. And Ms. Deen, she said, held out the promise that together, they might get rich one day.
Now, Ms. Deen, 66, is fighting empire-crushing accusations of racism, and Mrs. Charles, 59 and nursing a bad shoulder, lives in an aging trailer home on the outskirts of Savannah.
“It’s just time that everybody knows that Paula Deen don’t treat me the way they think she treat me,” she said.
Charles claims Deen promised to take care of her if she worked hard and help the celebrity chef build her empire, but Deen’s assurances never came to fruition.
Deen’s attorney issued a statement denying Charles’ claims, saying the former employee just wants to cash in on the controversy: “Fundamentally Dora’s complaint is not about race but about money. It is about an employee that despite over 20 years of generosity feels that she still deserves yet even more financial support from Paula Deen. “
Charles and three other employees filed a complaint against Deen with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to the Times, around that time Jamie Deen, Paula’s son, offered Charles a salary of $71,000 a year and told her to contribute to the newly created company retirement fund.
Charles says she stayed with Deen because she needed the money, but also because she didn’t have any other support.
Despite their differences, Charles says Paula will always be her friend, even from a distance.
She told the Times: “I still have to be her friend if I’m God’s child,” she said. “I might feed her with a long-handled spoon, but, yeah, I’m still her friend.”