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Jovial Paula Deen draws supportive crowd at Florida wine and food festival

By Steve Forrest, CNN
updated 11:28 PM EST, Sun February 23, 2014
Paula Deen says she used her months out of the spotlight to spend more time with her family.
Paula Deen says she used her months out of the spotlight to spend more time with her family.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paula Deen makes her fourth public appearance since controversy last year
  • Controversy came from a deposition in which Deen admitted using a racial epithet
  • She apologized several times, including Sunday at a wine and food festival
  • The crowd greeted her with a standing ovation

Miami (CNN) -- Celebrity chef Paula Deen drew a standing ovation from a crowd of several hundred people Sunday in Miami Beach as she made her fourth public appearance since a controversy over her admitted use of a racial epithet in the past.

"We have come off a hard summer ... my family and my partners ... and I want to take a moment to apologize to those of you who didn't hear me. I hope you see us bring back good memories for you," an emotional Deen told the crowd at the prestigious South Beach Wine and Food Festival.

Looking thinner than she has in the past and appearing overjoyed by the exuberant reception, Deen said she used her months out of the spotlight to spend a lot of quality time with her grandchildren. While Deen was preparing one of her famous dumpling dishes, she invited celebrity chef Robert Irvine to the stage, and Irvine then jokingly said to her "you apologized. You've eaten crow. Just don't do it anymore."

Irvine then added, "It's so good to have you back. This family is the best on the planet."

Deen told the audience that it was their cards and letters that helped her during and after the controversy, even personally thanking a young man in the audience from New Jersey who mailed her inspirational Bible verses.

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 videotaped deposition, Deen admitted using the "N word" in the past.

Dean 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.

Two weeks ago, it was announced that a new business partnership was created with private-content and consumer distribution company Najafi Media. Najafi said it intends to rebuild and grow her business, Paula Deen Ventures. Najami is investing $75 million into Paula Deen Ventures.

Known as "the Queen of Southern cuisine," Deen has sold over 8 million copies of her 14 cookbooks and is supported by one of the largest social media followings for any well-known chef.

Through her representative, Deen said that attending the South Beach event this year, as she has for almost a decade, was like a homecoming for her. Deen also said she was grateful for having the opportunity of helping the festival raise millions of dollars for Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

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