"Hi, I'm back!"
Paula Deen wooed a Houston crowd Saturday during her first appearance since the revelation that she used a racial slur in the past, according to CNN affiliate KPRC.
The Southern food diva looked straight into the lens of a camera, waved, smiled and winked as a sold-out audience of 1,500 cheered her on during a cooking demonstration at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertainment Show.
After a standing ovation, Deen wiped the tears on her face and told the crowd, "These are tears of joy, y'all. I've said all along that the one place I'd want to make my first step back out was Texas."
Deen fan Lucas Boucher flew in from Los Angeles to meet the chef.
"I started getting teary-eyed and I just told her we got her back and I said, 'I'm sorry you're going through this.' And she was crying," said Boucher, who wore a T-shirt with Deen's face imprinted on the front.
Deen's career and public reputation went into a tailspin in June after her deposition in a lawsuit brought by a former restaurant employee was released. In the video, Deen admitted using the "N word" in the past.
Deen apologized publicly several times, but the efforts failed to suppress the controversy. In the media firestorm that followed, Deen lost lucrative endorsements and her Food Network cooking show, while the publication of her eagerly anticipated cookbook was canceled.
In late August, a federal judge approved a deal dismissing the lawsuit, which leveled accusations of racism and sexual harassment. The lawsuit was dismissed "with prejudice," meaning it cannot be filed again, according to a court filing.
On Saturday, Houston residents, Kelly Eldridge, Stephanie Young and their friends, brought Deen face cut-outs and wore sashes with messages of support such as "Love and Best Dishes" and "Hey y'all."
"I'm hoping she comes back. I'm hoping she gets another TV show, more books," said Eldridge.
"We just want her to feel better about everything and be supporters of her," said Young.
Attendees paid between $75 and $400 for Deen event tickets.
A teary-eyed Deen shared her feelings about the controversy with the crowd.
"I'm sure you know, unless you're living under a rock, the last few months have been difficult. It was an opportunity to learn. I learned a lot about myself and my business. I just want to thank y'all from bottom of my heart."
Deen is scheduled for a second Houston appearance on Sunday and two additional shows in Dallas on September 21 and 22.