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Paula Deen: I Would Like To Thank The Food Network For 11 Great Years

deenfoodnetwork-3Paula Deen has caused a bit of a flap recently with statements made in a deposition last month, which has recently gotten into the hands of the National Enquirer.  By way of background, Deen, her brother “Bubba”, and assorted corporations that own a pair of restaurants in Savannah, GA have been sued by a former employee who claims to have been  subjected to “violent, racist and sexist” behavior while working for Deen’s various businesses over the past five years.

Much has already been written about her testimony, and based on this media coverage, strong opinions have been formed and expressed.  This post does not offer opinion or commentary on the substance of the statements made by Deen – rather, it presents those statements mostly in context, as they were recorded during the deposition.  Although few will take the time to read the whole deposition (except me), it is probably better to understand exactly what she said, rather than relying on a summary provided by the media.  It is up to the reader to draw their own conclusions.  However, it doesn’t seem like this is going to be particularly helpful in defending her lawsuit.

Q Did any of the things that your brother admitted to doing, including reviewing – reviewing pornography in the workplace, using the N word in the workplace, did any of that conduct cause you to have any concerns about him continuing to operate the business?

A No. My brother and I, 25 years ago, quite by accident, each started a business and we each had $200 to start that business. My brother built the most successful long-service business in Albany, Georgia with his $200. My brother is completely capable unless he’s being sabotaged.

Q Now, does his [Bubba’s] sense of humor include telling jokes about matters of a sexual nature?

MR. FRANKLIN: Ever, or what are you —

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q Sure.

A We have all told off-colored jokes.

Q Okay. Does his sense of humor include telling jokes of a racial nature?

A I’m sure those kind of jokes have been told. Every man I’ve ever come in contact with has one.

Q Okay. Miss Deen, have you told racial jokes?

A No, not racial.

Q Okay. Have you ever used the N word yourself?

A Yes, of course.

Q Okay. In what context?

A Well, it was probably when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.

Q Okay. And what did you say?

A Well, I don’t remember, but the gun was dancing all around my temple.

Q Okay.

A I didn’t — I didn’t feel real favorable towards him.

Q Okay. Well, did you use the N word to him as he pointed a gun in your head at your face?

A Absolutely not.

Q Well, then, when did you use it?

A Probably in telling my husband.

Q Okay. Have you used it since then?

A I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.

Q Can you remember the context in which you have used the N word?

A No.

Q Has it occurred with sufficient frequency that you cannot recall all of the various context in which you’ve used it?

A No, no.

Q Well, then tell me the other context in which you’ve used the N word?

A I don’t know, maybe in repeating something that was said to me.

Q Like a joke?

A No, probably a conversation between blacks. I don’t — I don’t know.

Q Okay.

A But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the ’60s in the south. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior.

Q Okay.

A As well as I do.

Q Are you aware that your brother has admitted to using that word at work?

A I don’t know about that.

Q All right.

A I’m not sure about that.

Q Okay. Were you ever aware from any other — other source prior to — or excuse me, or during Miss Jackson’s employment that Mr. Hiers was viewing pornography in the workplace?

A No. I know that men are really, really guilty of sending inappropriate jokes to each other. My husband would be under the jail if that were a sin right now.

Q Do you understand that there is some conduct that one can engage in outside the workplace that is not appropriate to inflict on your subordinate employees in the workplace?

A One more time, please.

Q Are you aware that there is some conduct that is allowed under the law outside the workplace that supervisors and managers cannot inflict on their subordinates employees inside the workplace?

A Yes. I think I understand what you’re asking, and yes.

Q Okay. And are you aware that Mr. Hiers, in addition to receiving these pornographic images and sexual jokes, would display them to his subordinate employees?

MR. WITHERS: Object to form.

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection. You can answer, Paula.

THE WITNESS: I know that that computer’s in the office and anybody can come in and snoop. What I know about a computer, Mr. Billips, you could slip through an eye of a needle because I think when people sit at that keyboard they become rich, brave and invisible, and it’s just a situation that I never wanted to put myself in.

Q Miss Deen, earlier in your testimony you indicated that one of the things that you had tried to — that you and your husband tried to teach your children was not to use the N word in a mean way, do you recall that testimony?

A Yes.

Q Okay. And could you give me an example of how you have demonstrated for them a nice way to use the N word?

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q Or a non-mean way?

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection.

THE WITNESS: We hear a lot of things in the kitchen. Things that they — that black people will say to each other. If we are relaying something that was said, a problem that we’re discussing, that’s not said in a mean way.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q What about jokes, if somebody is telling a joke that’s got —

A It’s just what they are, they’re jokes.

Q Okay. Would you consider those to be using the N word in a mean way?

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection.

A Depends on how it’s used in a joke.

MR. WITHERS: Object to form, vague.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q You can answer.

A That — that’s — that’s — pardon?

Q He was talking to me, go ahead.

A That’s — that’s kind of hard. Most –most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. Most jokes target — I don’t know. I didn’t make up the jokes, I don’t know. I can’t — I don’t know.

Q Okay.

A They usually target, though, a group.Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know — I just don’t know what to say. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.

Q Okay. Well —

A I can feel out that person pretty good on what would offend them, but I’m not sure, Mr. Billips, what — what the question even means.

Q Well, if you were sitting around at home just with you and your family, would you feel any hesitation in telling a joke that you thought was funny if it had the N word in it?

A I don’t tell jokes, not at my house. That’s —

Q Do the other members of your family tell jokes at home?

A Yes.

Q Okay.

A Yes.

Q And they told jokes using the N word?

A I’m sure they have. My husband is constantly telling me jokes.

Q Okay. And have — are you offended at all by those jokes?

A No, because it’s my husband.

Q Okay. What about your brother, does he tell those jokes?

A I’m sure he has. Bubba’s not good at joke telling, but I’m sure he’s tried to repeat some.

Q Okay. He just does it badly?

A Yeah, he don’t — he doesn’t tell ’em good.

Q Okay.

A Barry Weiner will ruin a funny joke. You know, some people can tell jokes in a funny way and some can’t.

Q Okay. And would you consider telling jokes, racial jokes, to be an example of using the N word in a way that’s not mean?

A Not for me personally. It would not —

Q It wouldn’t be mean for you personally?

A No, it wouldn’t — I wouldn’t tell it.

Q Okay.

A I mean, that’s — that’s not my style of joke.

Q What about racial harassment?

A We don’t tolerate that.

Q Okay. Well, what is it in your mind?

A I would think that – racial discrimination, was that the question?

Q Harassment.

A Harassment. I would think that that would be picking out a certain race and never cutting them any slack. I don’t know, verbally abusing them maybe, I’m not sure.

Q Okay. Using racial slurs in a workplace, would you —

A To them. If you were doing it against a Jewish person and constantly talking about — badmouthing Jews or lesbians or homosexuals or Mexicans or blacks, if you continually beat up on a certain group, I would think that that would be some kind of harassment.

Q Okay.

A I don’t know. We don’t — we don’t do that, I don’t know.

Q Did you consider what Dustin Walls was accused of doing to constitute racial harassment?

A I understand — I understand the pressure that goes along with the restaurant business. When that dinner bell rings at 11:00, it’s like you and your team go to war. You’re fighting a war to get everybody fed, every customer happy, and I know in the heat of the moment you can say things that would ordinarily not be said. Therestaurant business is just so stressful, so stressful.
Q Okay. Do you recall my question?

A Yes.

Q Okay.

A No. Maybe.

MR. FRANKLIN: All of the above.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q My question was, would you consider what Dustin Walls was accused of to constitute racial harassment?

A Yes.

A . . . . And I remember telling them about a restaurant that my husband and I had recently visited. And I’m wanting to think it was in Tennessee or North Carolina or somewhere, and it was so impressive. The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive. And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that somebody would misinterpret.

Q The media might misinterpret it?

A Yes, or whomever —

Q Okay.

A — is so shallow that they would read something to it.

Q Were they dressed in white shorts and bow ties?

A No, they were dressed in white jackets.

Q White jackets?

A Dinner jackets.

Q And a bow tie?

A And a bow tie and black trousers, and they were incredible.

Q Okay. And you said something —

A These were men that had made their living off of service and people in a restaurant.

Q Right.

A It was — I was so impressed.

Q Okay. And they were all black men?

A Yes. Professional servers and waiters.

Q And when you described it to Miss Jackson, did you mention the race of — well, you had to have mentioned the race of the servers —

A Of course I would —

Q — because that’s the part that —

A — because that’s what we just experienced.

Q Right. Do you know what word you used to identify their race?

A I would have used just what I just told you.

Q Black or African-American?

A Black. I would use the word black.

Q Okay.

A I don’t usually use African-Americans.

Q Okay.

A I try to go with whatever the black race is wanting to call themselves at each given time. I try to go along with that and remember that.

Q Okay. So is there any reason that you could not have done something just like that but have people of different races?

A Well, that’s what made it.

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection.

MR. WITHERS: Object to form.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q You can answer.

A That’s what made it so impressive. These were professional. I’m not talking about somebody that’s been a waiter for two weeks. I’m talking about these were professional middle-aged men, that probably made a very, very good living —

Q Okay.

A — at this restaurant. They were trained. The — it — it was the whole picture, the setting of the restaurant, the servers, their professionalism.

Q Is there any reason you couldn’t have found middle-aged professional servers who were of different races?

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection, relevance.

THE WITNESS: Listen, it was not important enough to me to even fight, to reproduce what that restaurant had. I was just simply expressing an experience that my husband and I had, and I was so impressed.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q Did you describe it as a — that that would be a true southern wedding, words to that  effect?

A I don’t know.

Q Do you recall using the words “really southern plantation wedding”?

A Yes, I did say I would love for Bubba to experience a very southern style wedding, and we did that. We did that.

Q Okay. You would love for him to experience a southern style plantation wedding?

A Yes.

Q That’s what you said?

A Well, something like that, yes. And —

Q Okay. And is that when you went on to describe the experience you had had at the restaurant in question?

A Well, I don’t know. We were probably talking about the food or — we would have been talking about something to do with service at the wedding, and —

Q Okay. And it was just you and Brandon and Lisa Jackson?

A I couldn’t — I couldn’t tell you who all was in there because the only reason I would have — they would have come to speak to me in my dressing room is because I was in between takes.

Q Okay.

A Changing clothes and getting hair and makeup —

Q Okay.

A — prepped.

Q Is there any possibility, in your mind, that you slipped and used the word “nigger”?

A No, because that’s not what these men were. They were professional black men doing a fabulous job.

Q Why did that make it a — if you would have had servers like that, why would that have made it a really southern plantation wedding?

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection. Relevance.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q You can answer.

A Well, it — to me, of course I’m old but I ain’t that old, I didn’t live back in those days but I’ve seen pictures, and the pictures that I’ve seen, that restaurant represented a certain era in America.

Q Okay.

A And I was in the south when I went to this restaurant. It was located in the south. Q Okay. What era in America are you referring to?

A Well, I don’t know. After the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War.

Q Right. Back in an era where there were middle-aged black men waiting on white people.

A Well, it was not only black men, it was black women.

Q Sure. And before the Civil War –before the Civil War, those black men and women who were waiting on white people were slaves, right?

A Yes, I would say that they were slaves.

Q Okay.

A But I did not mean anything derogatory by saying I loved their look and their professionalism.

Q But you knew that if you did something like that, the media would pick up on it and have something to say?

A I didn’t — no, not necess —

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection. Asked and answered.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q Correct?

A Not necessarily the media.

Q Okay.

A But people around us.

Q Okay.

A No, I knew the media was not covering Bubba’s wedding.

Q Okay.

A But just people around. It just wasn’t worth — it just wasn’t worth it.

Q Okay.

A If I could have brought the restaurant there I would have done that, but I could not afford to do that.

What is a “Ramen Concept” And Why Are They Suing Over it?

Big Food has decided there’s money to be made in selling bowls of ramen to the masses.  It’s surprising it has taken this long, since ramen isimages basically just a bowl of water and noodles (with maybe a few veggies and things, additional charge), and presumably has a very high profit margin.  Ramen has long been the go-to staple for people trying to subsist on an extremely limited budget – a dollar or two can provide many days of salty ramen slurping.  Now, of course, we’re talking about fancy ramen (rather, “traditional” ramen) in this case – not your college dorm ramen, but rather the kind of ramen that world-famous chefs looking for that corporate paycheck have painstakingly designed and tweaked.  The kind of ramen that won’t be sold for 29 cents a pack, but rather $8-10 dollars a bowl, presumably.

And where there’s big money at stake, litigation is soon to follow.  In this case, Kyle Connoughton, former head chef of London’s “The Fat Duck” (“Best Restaurant in the World 2006 – 2007), is suing Chipotle, and its CEO Steven Ells, claiming Ells fraudulently induced (i.e. tricked) him into taking a job with Chipotle, and became unjustly enriched by the work Connoughton performed on “ramen concepts” pursuant to this employment.

To understand the basis for this claim, one must look to Mr. Ells’ (alleged) prior ramen dealings.  Connoughton’s complaint alleges that Chipotle worked with chef David Chang (yes, the Momofuku guy) on a “ramen concept” around 2008, subject to a non-disclosure agreement signed by Ells.  The complaint alleges that this work was never authorized by Chang for use in any restaurant.  It further alleges that Ells and Chang could not agree on what Chang should be paid for his work and involvement with the concept, and that Ells thereupon insisted that Chang tear up the non-disclosure agreement, which he refused to do.  Chipotle executives allegedly believe that Chang will sue Chipotle once it begins opening its “ramen concept” stores. When Connoughton confronted Ells about his dealings with Chang, Ells told him to forget about it and proceed with the “concept,” but soon thereafter fired him on the grounds that he “no longer had confidence in the ramen concept.”

Ramen So you may be wondering – where is the legal claim in all this?  Connoughton essentially is asserting that Ells’ failure to disclose Chang’s involvement was fraudulent and that he never would have taken the job if he had known the history, because it would have forced him to violate the non-disclosure agreement and would have given him the reputation of having stolen the ramen idea from Chang.  He is seeking to recover the equity in the company that he lost when he was fired, the loss of other opportunities he could have taken if he had turned down the Chipotle job, as well as the value of the work that he performed for Chipotle while employed there.

I leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions about the viability of Connoughton’s lawsuit.  My own observation is that these circumstances likely present a cautionary tale for those chefs who seek to climb into bed with heavyweight corporate partners.  I am sympathetic to why they choose to do so – if they have a viable brand, they should make the most out of it while they still can, there is no shame in securing the financial well-being of themselves and their family.  That being said, they are advised to watch their ass.

Finally, if you have been wondering what a “ramen concept” is, this should give you an idea.  “Shophouse” is a Chipotle-owned joint in DC which, according to Connoughton, is based on the work initially done by Chang.  Chang has played his cards close to his vest regarding this whole affair (as his lawyers have properly advised him) – however,  the legal wars over these “ramen concepts” may soon heat up further, so stay tuned.

Apparently Chang et al. are not the first to come up with a “ramen concept.”  See below for an alternative concept published on the interwebs.  I’m not sure quite what the concept entails but perhaps you the reader will have some insights. Patent pending.

ramenConcept