Butter queen Paula Deen is in the Philly region this weekend, dispensing her wackily saccharine brand of Southern hospitality from a cooking demo stage at what organizers are calling the 17th annual Taste Philadelphia Festival of Food, Wine and Spirits.
Deen’s wide-eyed grin, which shows off so many bleached teeth it’s hard to take seriously, seems right at home at this event: Although “Philadelphia” is in the festival name, it actually takes place at the Valley Forge Casino Resort out in King of Prussia. As anyone who’s driven the east end of the Schuylkill knows, KOP is separated from the city by the most traffic-jam-plagued 20 miles of highway in the state.
The Saturday and Sunday appearances are part of a tour to promote a new cookbook, Paula Deen Cuts the Fat, which is just one facet of the former Food Network star’s fervent comeback campaign.
After rising to the top of the TV food scene — thanks to her unabashed embrace of butter and fat-filled fried food — she fell from grace in 2013 when she admitted to using “the N-word” during a deposition for a racial harassment suit brought by a former employee. (The outrage surrounding the incident built on earlier dismay over the not-too-surprising revelation that she suffered from diabetes, and was being paid to endorse a drug to treat said condition.) The N-word scandal, which she made worse by releasing a pair of weird “apology” videos and no-showing on a Matt Lauer interview, led to the cancellation of her many TV contracts and endorsement deals.
Deen has apparently decided two years is long enough for the American people to forgive and forget, and she’s begun clawing her way back into the public eye. In addition to the cookbook, recent grasps at the limelight include being a contestant on this season’s Dancing With the Stars, opening a giant restaurant in Tennessee, starting a podcast and even releasing a smartphone app.
While some of her fans never deserted her — sales of her previous cookbooks soared after the press crowned her a racist — we’re guessing most of those loyal acolytes aren’t from Philadelphia. However, if she does want to win Philly hearts and minds, here are seven ways she could do it.
1) Join the Fancies and strut in the Mummers Parade
Deen wears elaborate costumes well, as evidenced by the ruffles that swirl around her on DWTS and that time she celebrated Halloween by dressing as a giant stick of butter. Plus, we recently learned she’s a fan of blackface (or brownface, at least). That’s how she gussied up her son to play the part of Ricky Ricardo in a characteristically tone-deaf “I Love Lucy” photo she posted to Twitter. No, the Mummers haven’t allowed blackface since the ‘60s, but Desi Arnez’s skin wasn’t actually dark brown, either.
2) Replace Franklin as the new Sixers mascot
Not too many fans were thrilled about the Sixers new mascot when it was announced last winter, especially after word spread that the dude working inside the fuzzy blue dog was a professed hater of Philly sports teams. Unlike that guy, Paula most likely does not harbor a secret love for the Knicks. Plus, she’s got everything else required of a mascot: A face with big, googly eyes, the ability to jump up and down while smiling, and no fear of making a fool of herself. Just check out her most recent DWTS performance, in which she repeatedly flashed the judges with underwear that said “Shake it!”
3) Use scrapple in at least one recipe
For serious: How does a famous chef who espouses all things fatty and pork get away with having never published a recipe with scrapple in it? There aren’t any on her website, anyway. The Pennsylvania favorite may not be made with butter, but it’s usually fried in plenty. Or maybe she could invent a new, creamier loaf that does have butter in the mix. Scrapple butter. Butter scrapple. It sells itself.
4) Release a PSA telling the world Philadelphia Cream Cheese isn’t from here
The famous spread has zero to do with Philadelphia, but that doesn’t stop the world from thinking it does. A prominent figure releasing a public service announcement could change that, and Deen is perfect for the job — back in 2010, she was celebrity host of a online Kraft contest that asked home cooks to submit videos of them cooking with the stuff. (The contest was called “The Real Women of Philadelphia,” which is a very unfortunate mis-use of a great title.)
5) Create a Pa. budget negotiations app to fund the schools during the stalemate
There’s no cost to download Paula Deen’s Recipe Quest to your phone, but once you launch it and try to “play,” you’re met with sales pitches for in-app purchases at nearly every tap. You aren’t forced to buy stuff, but it takes a lot of tricky navigation to avoid doing so. That would work great for an app for politicians in Harrisburg — they could take as long as they want to come to an actual budget agreement, but much-needed money would be siphoned off along the way.
6) Commission a Rocky Balboa butter sculpture
She likes butter? Great. So do the people who build a giant butter sculpture for the Pennsylvania Farm Show every year. The dairy farmers usually carve a scene of families and cows out of their 1000 lbs of yellow milkfat, but wouldn’t a creamy Rocky statue work perfectly? It could be displayed year-round at Reading Terminal Market in a refrigerated case emblazoned with Deen’s name.
7) Pull her abomination of a cheesesteak recipe off the internet
Plenty of not-a-cheesesteak takes on Philly’s famous dish exist at restaurants around the world, but Deen’s has to be one of the most grievous bastardizations. She not only advises you to fry the steak separately from onions (and peppers, and mushrooms), and then to lay cold cheese on top of it, she also has you include battered and fried okra between the bread. When she opened her new Tennessee restaurant last April, she told E! that she “want[s] to take people back to the time when their feet were under their grandmother’s table.” Pretty sure that’s exactly where this sandwich belongs.