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Praise the Lord and Pass the Gravy: Paula Deen's Gospel Brunch at the NYWFF

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Katie was forced to sing Amen!
Katie was forced to sing Amen!
[Photos: Joshua David Stein]

On the third floor of the recently bankrupt and reborn Plaza Hotel, gospel singer Maryel Epps, large and clad in her signature cherubic white robe and white feather boa, preached the slow-cooked gospel of gluttony. The event — Paula Deen's Down Home Cookin' Gospel Brunch — had summoned Paula Deen fans from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Long Island for the chance to eat Poached Eggs with Hollandaise atop Short Rib Cake and glimpse a vision of their heroine.

The ballroom was full up with tables laden with flatware and empty glasses, waiting to receive orange juice and champagne. The rickety golden chairs creaked and groaned with their burden. In the other room, a buffet table was covered with Smithfield ham products in warming trays. Poached eggs trembled with the fear of the onslaught of forks and tongs that would soon decimate them. Mac and Cheese enjoyed one blessed moment of unity before it too would be ripped apart by the silver spoon and serving fork.

There was little talk of Jesus or the Lord or of the recent passing of Gospel legend Albertina Walker, in either the songs or in the tableside conversation. There was, however, vague talk of Paula Deen being in the building. "And you know, Paula said, 'We only live once so why not enjoy ourselves'?", one guest related in hushed tones. Well, I thought, because how in the world will one fight the armies of the Antichrist if one — upon resurrection — is bogged down by clogged arteries? "I think I saw her," said one woman, "from behind." "Everyone looks like her from behind," said her husband. He had a point. The crowd was largely — almost uniformly — rotund women and round men hovering around middle age.

Ms. Epps became more and more animated. The white robe she had doffed came back on and she primed the crowd. "Are you ready?" she said. "Can I get a woo-hoo?" Looking up from their plates, a thread of syrup from cookbook author Katie Lee's nutella french toast forming a tiny sweet rope from their lips to the plate, the crowd said "Woo hoo!" "It's Paula Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen!!!!!" Onto the stage bounded Ms. Deen. Cell phones emerged from bosoms, cameras from cases and screams from the throats of her supplicants. "Amen!" said Ms. Epps. "Amen!" said the crowd. "Amen!" said Ms. Deen, and then: "Is this thing on?" tapping the microphone. [It wasn't.]

I thought about what made this woman, Deen, Paul McCartney to these women. She's by all accounts just a normal woman. Yes, she's down to Earth but since when is that reason enough to elevate her to the stars? But as Katie Lee looked fawningly on at her and Lee Schrager sang her praises and Ms. Epps literally sang her praises and as Deen herself babbled on a bit about how she and her husband had gone to the the-AIT-tir it occurred to me that in Deen, these women and men see much of what in themselves is criticized lauded. That she is their reflection, basted in butter and browned with praise. Amen!

· All Paula Deen Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All NYWFF Coverage [-E-]

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