Paula Deen won -- and lost.
That's how author Allan Salkin described the final chapter of the devastating legal proceedings filed against the celebrity chef. Salkin knows Deen in a way that few do. He interviewed her repeatedly over the years as a New York City journalist, and extensively for his new book, "From Scratch: Inside the Food Network," out Oct. 1.
"Even though she has put the case behind her, she'll probably never put this bad publicity behind her," he said, later adding: "The damage is done."
Deen on Friday settled a lawsuit filed against her by a former employee who accused the Queen of Southern Cooking of tolerating a workplace where racial discrimination and sexual harassment were commonplace. The lawsuit blossomed into near daily media headlines when it forced Deen to admit that she had once used the N-word. Her food empire crumbled, with Food Network and Wal-Mart, among others, cutting ties.
When Salkin described his recollections of Deen back in the day, he remembered her as a boisterous force of nature, filling up a room with her "hey y'all" down-to-earth Southern charm. He said she was that rare celebrity who speaks unguardedly and without handlers whispering into her ear at every moment.
That relaxed approach to the media is probably no more. Salkin said that he vividly remembers interviewing Deen more than a decade ago -- long before she became a household name -- and recalls her dreaming about becoming the "next Martha Stewart."
And though Deen was a wildly popular food figure, she was well on a path to mega-success with her deal to sell food items at retail giant Wal-Mart. But that was before crisis struck.
"She was on the cusp," Salkin said.
It's unclear what is next for Deen, he said. "I expect to see her back on television someplace, sometime. But there are a lot of people who feel she is permanently damaged."
He added: "Settling [the legal case] helps her on the road to whatever rebuilding she is going to be able to do."
Salkin said that while some feel Deen has gotten what she deserved, the cost will fall heavier on people near her.
"Paula will be fine," he said. "But she had a lot of employees who are not going to be fine... Paula will be able to pay her bills forever. The people around her won't be."
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