Celebrity chef Paula Deen is in a deep stew right now. Past alleged racist comments and actions have found her and her career in a virtual free-fall. Deen's poor attempt at a video apology further entrenched the notion that this woman is in deep trouble. Her sponsorships have disappeared and her connection to television is all but severed. From QVC to Smithfield hams, it seems that everybody is heading for the door.

Who is this woman?


Her story, devoid of the scandal, is really quite remarkable. With almost nothing to start with Paula Deen turned her cooking ability into one of the most recognizable brand names in the industry. Her humble beginnings include a stint as "The Bag Lady."

This was the name of her home business in Savannah, Georgia. She made sandwiches and lunches in her home kitchen and her young children delivered them to her lunchtime customers. "The Bag Lady" was a great success.  Deen, a single mother of two, then opened up a restaurant called "The Lady" and later, joined by her sons in the business, it was called "The Lady & Sons".

Lady & Sons was a huge hit. Her restaurant's specialty was an award-winning grand buffet featuring a pageant of classic Southern cooking: fried chicken, fried okra, macaroni and cheese, homemade biscuits, etc. On each buffet table was a "hoecake," one of her signature specialties.

A hoecake is a traditional grilled flatbread found in Colonial America. Even writer Washington Irving referred to hoecakes in his earliest writings. The term comes from the usage of a flat iron hoe by field workers in the South to grill the cake. Early farming hoes had extra large flat iron surfaces and the cakes were formed on the surface and then held over an open flame to grill the "hoecake." Apparently, Paula Deen is known for making this Southern staple.

Deen's star took off with appearances on televisions shows, including her own, live appearances around the country, many books and magazines, QVC, etc. With a natural knack in the kitchen and an air of breezy Southern charm and neighborliness she was an immediate hit with her legion of viewers and readers. Her empire makes an estimated near $10 million a year.

Will Paula Deen survive this serious hurdle in her meteoric career? Only time will tell.